Throughput vs. Latency: What’s the Difference?

Blog 6 min read | Dec 8, 2023 | Martina Georgievska


Throughput and latency are different aspects of video streaming, each influencing video content delivery. Understanding the dynamics between throughput and latency is crucial for streaming platforms to ensure an uninterrupted and enjoyable viewing experience for their audiences.

Read along to learn more!

What is Throughput?

Throughput is the rate at which data is successfully transmitted from one point to another within a given timeframe. In the context of video streaming, it represents the amount of data that can be transferred per unit of time.

The higher the throughput, the smoother the streaming experience. Higher throughput provides streaming experiences by allowing larger volumes of data, such as high-definition videos, to be transmitted efficiently.

What causes poor throughput?

Several factors contribute to poor throughput. These issues hinder the flow of data, leading to buffering, lower video quality, or even interrupted streaming sessions.

Network Congestion

Network congestion arises when data traffic overwhelms available bandwidth, resulting in bottlenecks and delayed data transmission. It occurs due to a surge in simultaneous data transfers, especially during peak hours when network demand spikes. Inefficient routing or suboptimal paths further exacerbate congestion, causing delays, packet loss, and retransmissions. These issues significantly hamper effective data transfer rates and overall throughput within the network.

Poor Bandwidth

Poor bandwidth restricts the volume of data that can be efficiently transferred through a network connection. Outdated or inadequate infrastructure, including physical mediums like cabling or technology, limits the network’s capacity for data transmission. Service providers offering plans with low bandwidth allocations contribute to restricted throughput. The outcome is slower transfer rates and degraded network performance, impacting the overall user experience.

Hardware Inefficiency

Inefficient network hardware, such as outdated devices or misconfigured components, hampers the processing and transmission of data. Aging equipment lacks the necessary capabilities to handle modern data loads, leading to bottlenecks. Configuration errors or misconfigurations in network devices hinder optimal performance, while hardware failures, such as malfunctioning components, impede data processing. These inefficiencies collectively reduce throughput, causing performance degradation within the network.

Inadequate Streaming Server Capabilities

Inadequate server capabilities significantly affect content delivery to end-user devices. During peak demand, overloaded servers struggle to handle incoming requests, resulting in delays and slower response times. Additionally, a lack of efficient content caching mechanisms forces repeated retrieval of content from the source, impacting throughput. Servers located far from users also increase latency, hindering effective data transmission and diminishing the speed at which content reaches end-user devices.

How does throughput affect video streaming?

Higher throughput directly correlates with improved video streaming quality. It enables faster data transfer rates, ensuring that video content can be delivered seamlessly without interruptions or buffering, resulting in a smoother and more satisfying viewing experience for users.

What is Latency?

Latency, often referred to as delay, measures the time taken for data to travel from its source to its destination. In video streaming, latency manifests as the delay between the transmission of video data from the server and its reception by the viewer’s device.

What causes high latency?

Similar to throughput, high latency can be caused by various factors disrupting the real-time delivery of video content, as well as leading to delayed playback and interactions.

Network Congestion

Network congestion contributes to latency by overwhelming the available bandwidth, therefore creating delays in data transmission. When data traffic exceeds the network’s capacity, causing bottlenecks, latency increases as packets encounter queues, waiting for their turn to be transmitted. This congestion-related latency prolongs the time it takes for data to traverse the network, impacting real-time interactions and responsiveness.

Long Distances Between Servers and Users

Greater geographical distances between servers and end-user devices lead to increased latency. As data travels across longer physical distances, it encounters more network nodes and routing points, adding to propagation delay. This distance-induced latency significantly impacts the time taken for data packets to reach their destination, resulting in slower responsiveness and delayed content delivery to users.


Inefficient Routing

Inefficient routing configurations within the network infrastructure contribute to latency issues. Suboptimal paths or routing decisions cause data packets to take longer routes, leading to increased transmission times. Inefficiently routed data encounters additional network devices, adding to overall latency. These routing inefficiencies hinder the optimal flow of data.

Processing Delays Within Streaming Infrastructure

Delays in encoding or decoding video content occur during data processing stages within servers or streaming platforms. This creates a lag between the initiation of an action and the actual delivery of content to users. Processing delays add to the overall latency experienced by users, influencing the real-time nature of streaming applications and services.

Impact of High Latency on Video Streaming

Excessive latency results in delayed video playback, buffering, and synchronization issues. This delay negatively impacts the user experience, causing frustration and dissatisfaction among viewers, particularly in scenarios where real-time interactions, like live streaming or online gaming, are crucial.

Relationship between bandwidth, latency, and throughput

Bandwidth establishes the maximum potential throughput a network can achieve. However, actual throughput rarely reaches the maximum bandwidth due to factors like latency, network congestion, and protocol overhead. While higher bandwidth allows for higher potential throughput, it doesn’t guarantee reaching that maximum due to other network constraints.

That said, bandwidth and latency are not directly correlated. A network with higher bandwidth may not necessarily have lower latency. However, increased bandwidth can potentially alleviate congestion, reducing latency issues caused by data bottlenecks. Lower latency ensures quicker responsiveness, even with limited bandwidth, by minimizing the time delay for data to traverse the network.

Lastly, latency impacts throughput by introducing delays in data transmission. Higher latency can reduce effective throughput by causing retransmissions, buffering, or slower response times. Conversely, lower latency often leads to higher throughput, as quicker data transmission reduces the time wasted on waiting for acknowledgments or retransmissions.

How to Balance Throughput and Latency?

Achieving an optimal balance between throughput and latency is essential for ensuring a superior video streaming experience. Strategies to strike this balance include:


  • Content delivery network (CDN) optimization: Utilizing CDNs strategically placed around the globe helps reduce latency by delivering content from servers closer to the user, enhancing throughput by minimizing the distance data travels.
  • Quality of service (QoS) implementation: Prioritizing video traffic and allocating sufficient bandwidth through QoS mechanisms enhances throughput while minimizing latency for streaming content.
  • Codec and compression techniques: Efficient codecs and compression algorithms optimize data transfer, reducing the bandwidth required without compromising video quality, thus improving throughput and lowering latency.

What happens if throughput and latency are disbalanced?

When throughput and latency are not properly balanced, users encounter significant issues. High throughput with excessive latency can result in delayed video playback despite high-quality content, leading to frustrating user experiences. Conversely, low throughput with low latency may cause smooth playback but with compromised video quality due to insufficient data transfer rates.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to video streaming, achieving the ideal equilibrium between throughput and latency is crucial for a seamless and enjoyable viewing experience. By understanding the impact of these factors and implementing appropriate strategies, streaming platforms can optimize their services, providing users with high-quality, uninterrupted content delivery.