What is Buffer Bloat and How Do You Deal With it?

Do you find your streaming struggling? Is your gaming interrupted by annoying lag? Well, the issue could be something called buffer bloat. With more and more of us using high-bandwidth streaming services and applications, the issue isn’t going away. To help you understand what might be causing it and what you can do to address it – we break it down below.


What is buffer bloat?

Buffer bloat is used to describe issues with your internet connection when there’s a lot of activity on your network. It can affect any type of connection, whether it’s fibre broadband, ADSL or cable – but it is most likely to affect wireless and mobile connections. If you regularly use applications like Zoom to make video calls or you’re an avid online gamer then you’ve probably experienced it before. However, it can also lead to more general issues with browsing and bad experiences with applications and programs.

Buffer bloat often shows as jittering on your screen where there is high-quality video or graphics, or a lag between the command and action on your online device. This lag is a particular bug-bear for online gamers.


What causes buffer bloat?

The issue is essentially caused by your internet equipment. If you live in a shared house or have a large family and multiple people are downloading or streaming at once, it can get congested as all the data you’re transmitting gets caught in a queue.

Think of it like slip roads leading onto a motorway, with each road delivering data into your modem. When it’s busy, cars may need to slow down or come to a stop before they can access the road. Congestion can happen in the same way with your internet connection at home. Most modems are designed to manage the traffic that comes through in a way that avoids any data being lost. While this sounds helpful, it could result in speed and latency issues.


How do you notice buffer bloat?

You can spot buffer bloat pretty easily without even doing a test. You might be playing an online game but you find it more difficult than usual due to your character moving a few seconds after you ask them to. Or, you may be talking to a friend over Zoom and notice that the picture slows, cuts out or there are issues with the sound. Your streaming service may not be letting you watch the latest shows and only shows a buffering notification. However, this is not typically only a sign of buffer bloat and can be a sign of a general issue with your internet connectivity.

Find out more about what causes issues with your internet speed.


How buffer bloat impacts latency

When buffer bloat happens it can cause a spike in latency – which means the time it takes your internet to do something after you tell it to.  So, when buffer bloat happens, your connection may be much less reactive than usual, and you may have to wait longer for things to load or for your browser to react.


How do you measure buffer bloat on your network?

If you think you may be struggling with buffer bloat, there are ways you can measure it, including:


Speed tests

Curious to see if your broadband is performing and whether it is being affected by buffer bloating? You can use a speed test, like the one on our website.


Ping tests

One part of a speed test measures ping. During a ping test, you use a tool to send data from your IP address to another IP address to see if the data is received. If it succeeds, you find out the latency: the speed that it takes for your device to send that data.


How is ping measured?

Ping is measured in milliseconds. For a wired connection through your ethernet cable, you can expect a ping score on average of 5-20ms. For a wireless connection, you can expect closer to 30ms. If you’re using mobile data, this may be much higher and up to 100ms. The most important thing to know with ping is: the lower score the smoother the connection.


How to fix buffer bloat?

Unfortunately, upgrading your internet to a higher speed is not a solution to buffer bloat – if only it were that easy! If you really want to address buffer bloat, there are a few things you can do:

  • Better tech: To properly address the issue, upgrade your modem to a model that uses something called Smart Queue Management. This basically prioritises the data that needs to get sent through quickly to avoid any traffic jams and prevent you from having issues with lag and latency.
  • Trust the ethernet: You should try to connect any devices that you can to your modem using an ethernet cable. This won’t be possible for devices like your mobile phone or tablet—and may be inconvenient for a laptop—but you can do it for any devices like smart TVs that stay in one place. By connecting these devices directly, you avoid putting too much strain on your Wi-Fi and save it for the devices that actually need it!
  • Add multiple access points: You may not know this, but you can add up to three multiple Wi-Fi access points throughout your home. They will need to be connected via an ethernet cable which does mean a few extra wires. But, by separating people in your household on to different channels, you can help reduce congestion and avoid buffer bloat!

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FAQs: What is Buffer Bloat and How Do You Deal With it?

To check for buffer bloat, run an online speed test and check the “bufferbloat” score. A score of “A” or “B” indicates no buffer bloat, while a score of “C,” “D,” or “F” suggests buffer bloat.
If you live in a household where multiple people are using high bandwidth applications like streaming platforms or online gaming at the same time – then buffer bloat is very common and not something to be too concerned about. If it becomes such an issue that you’re struggling to do anything online, then check out our recommendations above to address it or ask your internet service provider for advice.
When we’re using the internet, we send and receive data in things called packets. So, when that data fails to turn up where we wanted it – that’s called packet loss. Buffer bloat happens because your equipment was designed to avoid packet loss happening. So instead of allowing data to get lost, it holds it up in a queue. While both packet loss and buffer bloat often happen for the same reason – congestion – buffer bloat does not specifically cause packet loss.
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