How to Fix Packet Loss: Six Common Causes and Solutions [Guide]

Updated Aug 3, 2022.
How to Fix Packet Loss - Six Common Causes and Solutions [Guide]

VoIP uses data packets to transmit voice calls over the internet. During the process of transmission, some data packets may get lost or degraded.

If you have heard static and strange sounds when calling over the internet, it is an indication of packet loss. Packet loss hurts the quality of calls. You may find out that words, phrases, and even entire sentences get removed from the conversation. 

If you are using VoIP for video conferencing, video chats, and other multimedia communications, packet loss can hurt the quality of video streams.

Anyone who has experienced packet loss issues knows how annoying it can be. Minimizing or fixing packet loss so that it does not affect your business calls and result in degraded customer experience is vital. 

Knowing how to diagnose, detect, reduce, and fix packet loss is crucial to monitoring networking performance. 

In this article, you will learn about the six common causes of packet loss, how it affects your business, the best tools for reducing packet loss, and how to fix it. 

Let’s get started.

What is a Packet Loss?

Packets refer to the different forms of information that you send via the internet. They are often called network or information packets, which are tiny units of data carried in a network.

All of the information you send over the internet, in the form of GIFs, texts, stickers, videos, photos, emails, voice notes, is made up of packets. 

Packets are sent to intended recipients via an internet pathway to enable effective communication. The network distributes these packets evenly across different pathways to enhance better performance.

Sometimes, packets do not pass through the network to reach their intended destination. That is what we call packet loss. Packet loss occurs when one or two information packets fail to make it through the network pathways. The farther these packets of data have to travel, the higher the chances of transmission failure. 

Let us take a look at some of the reasons why we experience packet loss.

What Causes Packet Loss?

Packet loss can be caused by a lot of factors, most of them are unpremeditated. Let’s look at a few of them in detail.

1. Damaged Networking Cables

If you are operating on a wired network, the cables can be a good reason why you are experiencing packet loss. 

Networking cables handle a lot of traffic because they slowly get weak on continuous use. When these wires deteriorate, packet loss occurs and data is inefficiently transmitted. Also, when faulty cables are used to send information, electric signals are transmitted alongside the data. 

How Can You Detect It?

If you think damaged wires are the cause of your packet loss issues, check your cables meticulously to check for any external damage like burnt wires. Check your connection points and sockets to see if they are connected properly.

How Can You Correct It?

If your assumptions are correct, the first thing is to replace all damaged wires to create a better cable connection. Then to avoid likely problems later in the future, use the tips when getting new wires:

  • Select the proper wire for a device. Check the power, voltage, and ampere rating if it is the right one because these little things matter for devices that operate electrically.
  • Get jackets to cover the wires to avoid exposure to chemicals and other agents that are not familiar with electricity. Also, ensure to get durable wires that can work efficiently under different conditions.
  • Arrange the connection properly to avoid destructive signal interference. It can be dangerous when fire outbreaks occur.

2. Congested Networks

Imagine the rush at computers when workers in large companies run back to offices after a lunch break, that is probably one of the busiest times of the day. 

During times like these, there is such high traffic on the networking space. The network will be trying so hard to operate at the speed of the high traffic, thereby causing congestion.

When you have congested networks, data transmission experiences delays and packet loss occurs. Packet data is left behind during transmission so that the network can catch up with the traffic. When the traffic is back to normal, some information would have been lost during the congestion.

How Can You Detect It?

A congested network will experience high latency. You will notice glitches while working. Congestion is always noticed when you compare the speed rate of networks during different time intervals. 

Network congestion happens for short periods, but some may last longer. When network speeds are slower than the normal rate, they are considered an effect of congestion. 

How Can You Correct It?

Firstly, you need to monitor the network’s performance. If the period of transmission is the reason for network congestion, try to send information when the traffic is less congested. 

Also, ensure to transmit the essential information first to optimize the network and traffic and to reduce congestion. Lastly, contact your internet service provider to provide more bandwidth during those busiest times of the day.

3. Strength of Wi-Fi Networks

When you operate on a network using Wi-Fi, there are tendencies that some packets of information will be affected. 

Packet loss can also occur when the Wi-Fi network signal is very poor. It can also be caused by interferences and signal transmission through extremely thick walls. Wireless connections are at the risk of network setbacks than wired connections due to the nature of transmission. 

So if you are having packet loss, it could be from your Wi-Fi connection. The signal strength may be low due to your distance from the internet service provider or low bandwidths.

How Can You Detect It?

To check the status and strength of your Wi-Fi connection, access the internet access button on the taskbar. The pop up-box has several lines to indicate the strength of the signal. 

If you notice weak signal strength, maybe the network is congested. It means that the Wi-Fi connection does not have enough strength to accommodate all the connected devices. Weak signal strength can also mean that you are a bit far from the Wi-Fi source.

How Can You Correct It?

First, if you notice a slight distance between you and the source, try to move closer to the source to see if there is any improvement. 

If your signal is still weak, reset the router to see if it is any better. However, if it is one out of many connected devices that are experiencing signal issues, restart the device instead and reconnect.  

You can check the Wi-Fi analyzer in the settings to see if there are any hidden issues to rectify. If problems persist, then reconnect to another Wi-Fi network or make use of wired connections.

4. Software Issues

Software is a very vital aspect of the transmission of data. Any slight problems with your software can cause packet loss. 

When the software delays due to a programming or configuration error, your network begins to lag. It could be due to outdated software or bugs. Software bugs can reduce network performance and cause it to inefficiently transfer information packets. 

How Can You Detect It?

If your connection is slower than normal, check the bandwidths your software or application is using. You can also check the task manager to see how your apps have been operating using the network. 

In the task manager, there is a tab that shows you the history of network use during the last 30 days. You can compare the network usage per day to the latency you are experiencing. 

How Can You Correct It?

If your software application is sapping too much bandwidth from your network, you can restart the application or reboot the whole system. 

You can check the software for any available updates, if there are any, download the latest version. That should increase the network performance speed. 

Check the configuration package if the application was rightly configured. If you are still facing issues, contact a software developer to troubleshoot the software and find a solution. If they do not make headway, consider using an alternative software package.

5. Overloaded Connected Devices

Packet loss can be caused when you overload a system with too many devices. This means the system is handling more than its capacity. Transmission of packets on overloaded devices might not be efficient. 

How Can You Detect It?

Check the number of connected devices on the system; it might be too much for the system to handle. Overloaded devices render the network too weak to enable the transmission of packets. 

How Can You Fix It?

Reduce the connected devices to allow optimum network service. Information is efficiently transferred when the network is very fast. A network can only operate well when the system is working within capacity range.

Causes Packet Loss
Source: Comparitech

How Can Packet Loss Impact My Business?

The effect of packet loss on a business is very critical. However, packet loss affects businesses based on the type of protocol. Most businesses operate on three types of protocol. They are the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), User Datagram Protocol (UDP), and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

1. Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)

Businesses that use the TCP often deal with packet loss. Transmission Control Protocol is designed to always nullify the loss of packet data by consistently retransmitting the data. In this case, when packet loss occurs, repeated transmissions will pick up whatever data got lost and rebuild the stream of data. 

One thing you need to note is that retransmission of data takes time. Your system may also experience some delays or slowdowns when multiple connections are made synchronously.

Transmission Control Protocol
Source: ResearchGate

2. User Datagram Protocol (UDP)

UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is another protocol used by network officers. UDP is not quite as functional when dealing with information packets. Unlike TCP, User Datagram Protocol does not retransmit data once it has been sent. 

So if there is packet loss on the network, you will have to resend the data manually. The reason why is because UDP connections often halt the transmission when there is packet loss, and this can lead to incomplete, corrupted, or duplicated data.

A major cause of packet loss with this protocol is the inefficient transmission that happens as a result of slow connections.

Differences Between TCP and UDP
Source: NetBurner

3. Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP)

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a communication system that does not handle packet loss well. Using this protocol, packet loss can be a massive threat to business operations because it can lead to loss of call quality. You can miss out on some important information while on a call with esteemed business associates. 

Packet Loss Concealment (PLC) is a technology that improves the quality of calls and makes them sound better. Apart from the technology, discovering the cause of packet loss can improve call quality. 

Voice over Internet Protocol Working Process
Source: Gradwell

General Ways Packet Loss Impacts Your Business

  • Packet loss can affect unified communication processes. Incomplete and weak signals can slow down the transmission of files in the computing department of a business.
  • Generally, packet loss reduces the transmission speed of a connected network. It can also cause a reduction in the quality of transmission. Oftentimes, this reduction in quality is common to latency-sensitive protocols or software applications like Voice over IP.
  • Communication processes are insecure when they are susceptible to packet loss. Illegal users can bypass security measures and hack into VoIP to introduce malicious codes that can corrupt the network. This can lead to the loss of encrypted data.

How to Detect Packet Loss?

There are a series of steps and tools you can use to diagnose packet loss. 

  • Check for Damaged Networking Cables, Congested Networks, and Poor Wi-fi Networks. User experience comes first. Oftentimes, users complain about poor connectivity or poor network performance due to damaged networking cables, congested networks, the strength of Wi-fi networks, and software issues. When you notice signs like these, you can start by troubleshooting the system to either verify that the problem is packet loss or to rule out packet loss as one of the likely causes. 
  • Check for High CPU Performance. One of the most convincing signs that packet loss is the cause of a network’s malfunctioning is High CPU performance. This sign can be a result of many reasons like damaged hardware or software, over-utilization of devices, faulty networking cables, etc. If you detect any of these as the issue, then the next step is to troubleshoot why your device has high CPU utilization. 
  • Troubleshoot for Other Causes. Perhaps the real cause of the packet loss is not an easy-to-find one like high CPU utilization, you can continue troubleshooting using tools like traceroute and ping. You can detect if there is a loss on a network by sending different sizes of ping packets. When you have detected packet loss, then you can use a traceroute to identify the exact position on the transmission path that packet loss is occurring. MTR (My Traceroute) is a tool that combines the function of ping and traceroute. You can use it to monitor the performance of your network all day and fix any packet loss detected. However, some devices may filter out ping packets which may not allow you to get accurate results when using the tools. 
  • Check Interface Statistics. When troubleshooting on your device, it would be best if you consider looking at the interface statistics. GUI tools can show you the interface statistics on your network and disclose any information on the number of packets sent and received, number of packet losses, and more. 

Best Tools to Reduce Packet Loss

There are software applications and tools that reduce or fix packet loss. As efficient as some software applications are, they can not fix escalated packet loss situations. A major factor for effectively reducing packet loss is network visibility because you can only solve a problem you can not see.

Let us discuss some of the best tools that can help prevent the impact of packet loss. These tools will give you an in-depth view of your network. 

To reduce packet loss, the most important step is to find out what is causing the latency and how to maintain a good network. Here are a few tools to help lessen the effect of packet loss.

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM)

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is one of the best, all around, sophisticated monitoring tools

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is one of the best, all-around, sophisticated monitoring tools you can get. It is the go-to tool for diagnosing, detecting and fixing network performance problems and outages because it delivers a top-notch approach to network visibility concepts. 

The packet loss solution has a display of network monitoring tools like SolarWinds Network Atlas, geographic maps, network visualization tools, etc. These are tools to give you in-depth and detailed information on what is going on regarding your network. 

Network Performance Monitor is a perfect choice for administrators who control a large system space. It provides path maps to see where exactly a problem lies around a network and the steps to resolve the issue quickly. The software is also powerful for specific troubleshooting processes to fix packet loss problems.

NPM has a network path analysis feature that notifies you when a software application or the network itself is responsible for packet loss. The tool makes it easy to identify by highlighting problem links in red. It assists in troubleshooting too. 

The user interface also shows a summary of your device status and statistics, alerts/notifications, network activities, etc. so that you do not have to navigate through different pop-up web pages to get an overview of your network health.

2. SolarWinds VoIP & Network Quality Manager (VNQM)

SocialWinds VoIP & Network Quality Manager  is focused on network solutions regarding better VoIP delivery

SocialWinds VoIP & Network Quality Manager (VNQM) is focused on network solutions regarding better VoIP delivery. You can easily identify what causes call noise, latency, and jitter by analyzing the call data from Cisco Communications Manager. VNQM simultaneously communicates with lots of systems, making it deliver an excellent monitoring experience. 

The dashboard displays a summary of the network pathway of each voice call like a dial graph. Colors show the health status of each path. 

VoIP often makes it difficult to deliver high-quality phone services using an overloaded network where there is competition for bandwidth. The IT department uses QoS settings to divert the bandwidth to the most important applications.

3. PRTG Network Monitor

PRTG Network Monitor helps you fix packet loss by providing sensors

PRTG Network Monitor helps you fix packet loss by providing sensors, allowing you to ping packet loss issues easily and quickly. 

Ping Sniffer Sensor calculates the rate of packet loss on each connected device, measures your network accessibility, and shows you past and present data metrics in the form of charts. The QoS One Way Sensor helps you monitor network paths. IP SLA Sensor measures packet loss.

Most of the PRTG Network Monitor Features focus on the prevention of packet loss. It does this by preventing overloads by blocking specific traffic. This tool also has a comprehensive alert feature that notifies you of any unusual network performance. PRTG Network Monitor is widely known for its easy-to-use feature.

4. ManageEngine OpManager

ManageEngine OpManager is a tool that focused on the large and multi vendor IT business networks

OpManager is a tool focused on network management for large and multi-vendor IT business networks. This tool is widely known for unification. It is recognized for individuality and inclusiveness. 

The tool has a comprehensive dashboard that offers wide visibility of every detail of your network infrastructure right from the software applications to the hardware components. 

OpManager is very effective in large-scale establishments because the dashboard can be customized by any user without losing information. Parts of its exceptional features are server monitoring, Voice over IP monitoring, Cisco reporting, network health check, etc.

OpManager uses SNMP to continually observe the network health on all connected devices. It is a preventive measure regarding packet loss. 

Controller Displays send out notifications which pop up on the dashboard. The notifications are called ‘traps’; the traps are further configured to send mail alerts to the user. Some alerts are to notify you not only of packet loss but also what device is the cause of it.

When you click on the notification, a pop-up showing you details about the device and the network performance statistics will appear on the screen. On further clicks, you can detect, troubleshoot, and solve the packet loss issues.

5. Nagios

Nagios is also one of the top rated network monitoring tools

Nagios is also one of the top-rated network monitoring tools that you can buy. It helps lessen the impact of packet loss by analyzing all your network’s connected devices and displaying the performance metrics for each of them. You can access the dashboard options directly from the web browser.

The packet loss solution is a ‘go to’ tool when looking for excellent packet troubleshooting. It records performance metrics if you want to compare the latency at different network traffic scenarios. This function is another dimension of troubleshooting and packet loss prevention. 

Troubleshooting processes are not enough, but using the information you get reduces packet loss problems and also reduces the chances of future occurrences.

Nagios XI alert feature also sends out detailed notifications to users in and beyond the IT department. This keeps every section well informed while it rectifies the problem. Nagios XI is powered by Nagios Core 4, which enables better efficiency. It also monitors remote sites, wireless networks, virtual systems, cloud networks, etc.

Steps to Fix Packet Loss

Packet loss might feel like an insignificant issue to some organizations. But to others, it has negatively affected the IT operations of the organizations. Financially, it can also drain a company. There is no better solution than to get rid of everything that causes packet loss.

Regarding communications, packet loss can cause loss of information when speaking to potential clients. Imagine you having virtual meetings, and then the audio and video are not synchronizing, annoying right? Absolutely. 

Think about how frustrating it will be when your staff has to repeat every message twice or thrice while on a call with customers because some of the messages dropped out. These are scenarios that can jeopardize the reputation of a brand, which is unarguably difficult to build in a competitive market.

However, to avoid these frustrating stories, you can fix packet loss with a simple 5-step guide. It is a long and exhausting process but it has been summarized into five steps for easy understanding. 

These steps are:

  • Determine the Root Cause of the Packet Loss
  • Test your VoIP Service Provider
  • Configure your Network Settings
  • Inspect your Network Hardware Devices
  • Observe and Monitor Packet Loss

Let us take a look at the detailed explanations of each step.

1. Determine the Root Cause of the Packet Loss

For you to fix an issue, you have to know the root cause. If you do not know the root cause, you will keep on guessing and weighing different thoughts that might not yield any positive outcome. 

There are many causes of packet loss occurrence that can affect the transmission of packets during calls. It is very important to identify the problem before you take any further steps.

The first step to figuring out the problem is to run a VoIP quality test. Many resources are available for this on the internet. One of the best tests you can use is the 8×8 VoIP Test. The purpose of the test is to know if your internet connection allows a VoIP service. 

Conducting a VoIP quality test also gives a better apprehension of the good quality that callers will experience. However, this step should have been done when signing up with a VoIP service provider but many organizations fail to do it. 

If the outcome of the test is negative, then that is the problem. You need to either upgrade your service or switch your business internet service provider to a better alternative. 

In addition, the test also measures latency. Of course, everyone wants this metric to be a bit low but if your latency is above 150ms, then you can experience low or poor call quality, alongside packet loss. If your network passes these tests, then eliminate them as root causes. 

2. Examine Your VoIP Service Provider

The previous test should tell you if your internet connection supports VoIP services. If an internet provider is not the issue, then the next thing is to assess your VoIP software. 

All VoIP systems do not offer the same quality. The call quality you will experience differs depending on the software you use, even without having to switch internet service providers.

A common mistake most companies make is deploying a VoIP system without examining their options. You need to do your research on these systems before you employ their services. 

If you used the recommended 8×8 Test in step one, it would be best to explore its other options. They have a multi-communication display for the chat, voice, and video features. Businesses and contact centers also make use of the service.

Some other recommended examples of VoIP service providers are Nextiva, RingCentral, Ooma, and RingCentral alternatives. These VoIP service providers are offered at roughly the same price and provide great value to businesses and large industries. Getting quality VoIP service providers will help eliminate your packet loss issues.

3. Configure Your Network Settings

One common cause of packet loss is a congested network. Even if your network can handle VoIP services seamlessly, it can still mess up under certain conditions. For example, if staff is downloading large files, streaming, and running backups simultaneously, they can exhaust your bandwidth and cause packet loss.

In this case, increasing the bandwidth seems like the next best solution, but it might not always be possible. The reason is that your network provider can be offering the maximum amount of bandwidth it can give for your location. What do you do next?

You can set up a Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) or configure your settings to prioritize transmission of voice packet data. This step is a bit technical so if you do not have expertise in IT, it would be best to consult an IT specialist. You can use the VLAN to allocate a certain amount of bandwidth to your VoIP call service.

This process will put a high level of priority on the transmission of voice packet data. Any impact on the network traffic will not affect voice transmission. The VoIP phone system will not also be competing for bandwidth with other connected devices. This process also prevents slowdowns in transmitting data packets.

The only disadvantage is that other devices might be running at a slower rate. Other staff might notice a slow download process or poor streaming services. You can contact an IT expert to synchronize the whole system to get optimum network service from each device.

4. Inspect Your Network Hardware Devices

If you discover that your internet connection and VoIP software are not the problems, then the next step is to consider your hardware components. Most businesses keep updating their software programs while using outdated hardware. You might not get the best of services this way.

If you do not access your hardware before upgrading your software, then there is a good chance you will be operating current software on an old hardware device. 

Technology improves daily. Old switches, routers, Ethernet cables are not always compatible with the new VoIP software system. Loose cables can also cause packet loss. Ensure you do a thorough check on all your hardware components.

Rearrange your devices to maintain a reasonable distance from one another to avoid destructive interference. If the phone systems are too close to the cameras, Bluetooth devices, and speakers, it can cause packet loss. Consult a reliable VoIP service provider if you are ready to upgrade your hardware to put you in the right direction.

Your service provider should be able to offer the best support irrespective of whether you are using a virtual phone system or a traditional phone system. If they are not, then it would be best to change your service provider.

5. Observe and Monitor Packet Loss

Fixing packet loss is not the end of the road. There are other issues to face like simultaneous calls, network traffic, and higher call volumes. It is best to monitor packet loss to avoid extra problems like these. Top-rated VoIP services offer reports, it is the reports that show packet loss. 

The reports contain information on jitter, latency, and bandwidth. If the reports show packet loss, go back to the guide above and follow the steps to resolve the issue.

What Happens Next After Fixing Packet Loss?

When you fix packet loss, you can explore other opportunities around. You can consider expanding your business. Employ new staff and agents with specific skills. Expand your reach to customers knowing full well that you can handle higher call volumes. 

As your company expands, ensure that your VoIP provider should also grow with you, even if it means subscribing to a more expensive plan. If employing a new specialist or upgrading service is crucial to your business plans, go ahead.

By now, you should have a clear understanding of what to do to fix packet loss issues. Go through the steps carefully and consult IT experts where needed.

Martin Luenendonk

Editor at FounderJar

Martin loves entrepreneurship and has helped dozens of entrepreneurs by validating the business idea, finding scalable customer acquisition channels, and building a data-driven organization. During his time working in investment banking, tech startups, and industry-leading companies he gained extensive knowledge in using different software tools to optimize business processes.

This insights and his love for researching SaaS products enables him to provide in-depth, fact-based software reviews to enable software buyers make better decisions.