By JP Matte

We tend to describe the performance of an Internet connection in terms of bandwidth. While it’s absolutely true that a connection with a larger bandwidth will transmit more information per second, if we look at the Mbps and Gbps as the only indicator of how fast your Internet will be, we’re missing a huge part of the picture. Your Internet connection is essentially your connection to your Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) network, and there are several things about an ISP’s network that can affect your perceived bandwidth.

A little refresher how the Internet works… 

The Internet is a jumble of independent networks operated by thousands of companies. These network providers interconnect, or “peer” with each other in common peering hubs. So, the information we transmit travels over these different networks, across a wide variety of mediums (wireless, coax, fibre, etc), to get from one point to another. Since there are so many disparate parties and technologies involved in connecting your computer to Medium, there are some rules, or protocols, that data transmission follows when moving through the network.

The TCP, or Transmission Control Protocol, is responsible for getting information across network hops “in one piece.” It does this by having both parties check in with each other: the sending device sends a “heads-up” about what’s being sent, and the receiving device verifies sends confirmation that the data arrived as expected. This ensures that information is being sent & received correctly, and that systems aren’t overwhelmed, but it slows things down. The bad news is that networks are full of these connection points where the TCP is doing its “traffic cop” thing to keep our data safe. 

What is latency?

The simplest way to define latency is the amount of slow-down a data transmission experiences which is caused by the number of obstacles on its journey. If you picture your data as a packet moving along the network like a car driving on roads and highways, latency is like the delays that little car encounters on the way. Hopefully, the network’s routes are able to handle the traffic demand without significant slowdowns and have efficient alternate routes should our packet encounter a roadblock! 

Similar to our little car’s journey, our data packet doesn’t travel in a straight line. Its journey follows the pathways that were created by its ISP. Each ISP varies in how it peers its network with other private networks, ISPs, institutional networks, and Cloud providers. So, your data packet would take a different road to get to where it’s going, depending on your ISP’s network peering. If the TCP is akin to an extra-vigilant traffic cop, a poorly-peered network would have you travel from Toronto to Scarborough, by way of New Jersey. Case in point, large international budget ISPs often bring their traffic back to major hubs in the US, with a significant effect on your packet delivery speed.

Bridging the latency gap by connecting locally.

Content and Cloud Saas providers are quickly building access to their servers all around the world, making it possible for ISPs to peer with them closer to home. By having the best and closest peering, the overall experience is improved since there’s less physical distance to cross before your data reaches its destination.  

Local peering brings content closer to the user. It’s important to our mission to ensure that our network remains locally relevant and as locally connected as possible. This way we become the local anchor point that connects our communities to the world.  

Questions to ask your ISP if you’re concerned about latency:

  • Are you connected locally to all the public internet exchanges?
  • Are you peered locally with all the ISPs in your region?
  • Are you peered locally with CDNs in your region and beyond?
  • Are you peered locally with cloud providers in your region and beyond?
  • Who are your global transit providers and why did you choose them?
  • Is your peering in multiple places in the region, so as to not put all your eggs in the same basket (or building)?

At Beanfield, we’ re proud of our answers to these questions, and of how efficient our network is thanks to an abundance of local peering. But don’t take our word for it – check out our peering map.