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What Is Low Latency?


Imagine you’re watching a live-stream of a big sports event through an app. One of your friends is watching it too, in a different continent – but you can still share the fun through live messaging in the app window.

Now imagine you share a message in the final minute of the big game to share how excited and nervous you are, but it lags.

Your friend doesn’t get to share the excitement in real-time. They feel left out of the action.

Another example – you’re hoping to close a business deal that’s dependent on the markets in a trading app, but the chat isn’t real-time. The messages lag, your buyer loses interest – opportunity missed.

When it comes to in-app chat – speed is the name of the game.

The technical term for lag is ‘high latency’. If you want to ensure speedy and reliable transmission of in-app messages, you need to aim for ‘low latency’.

In this post, we’ll explain what low latency is, the benefits of low latency data transfer, and how Sceyt’s proprietary messaging protocol helps to achieve it.

What is Low Latency?

In simple terms, latency is the time taken for a packet of data (in this case, in-app messages) to be transferred from one location to another. If you use a messaging service like WhatsApp, you may notice that when you send your message one tick appears to say that the message has been sent and a second tick to say it delivered.

Sometimes there’s a long delay between the sending and arriving ticks. This is an example of high latency. If the gap is short or almost instantaneous, this is low latency.

  • High latency – long delay between transmitting and receiving data such as text messages
  • Real-Time Assistance: almost instantaneous receipt of data.

Imagine latency as a game of digital ping-pong. A user taps a button or sends a message, initiating a digital rally. The data - think of it as the ping-pong ball - then whizzes through the maze of internet channels to reach its destination. After the hit, the ball (or response) springs back. For real-time communication, this whole back-and-forth process, known as Round Trip Time (RTT), is supposed to be lightning fast – think milliseconds. But that isn’t always the case.

Acceptable latency levels for different use cases

  • Non-interactive events or broadcasts (e.g. radio show) – RTT 5 to 15 seconds (high latency)
  • Live streaming of sports event or a news broadcast – RTT 3 to 5 seconds (average latency)
  • Video and audio calls and conferencing – RTT 100 to 250 milliseconds (low latency)
  • Real-time chat and other interactive messaging – RTT less than 100 milliseconds (very low latency)

What causes latency – the silent conversation killer?

A number of factors can add to the delay between messages sending and arriving. Maybe it’s the physical distance that the data needs to travel across – from one side of the world to the other, for instance. Alternatively, it could be to do with the speed of your internet connection.

Sometimes it may be related to the quantity of intermediaries that the data has to travel through, such as routers or servers.

But when it comes to in-app chat and real-time messaging, one of the biggest factors that contributes to latency is the format that the data is transmitted in.

The High Cost of High Latency

Often, we don't realize the true cost of high latency until it's too late. Imagine you’re at a dinner party with a friend who delays for several seconds before answering simple questions. It would quickly become frustrating, right? Maybe you’d move away from them at the first opportunity.

High latency during in-app chat is similar. If there are constant delays, your users may decide to look for a rival app that’s faster and livelier. In a business situation, delayed message delivery may even cost you money in missed opportunities and reduced productivity.

Disrupted real-time interactions are particularly frustrating in apps where interactivity is key, such as multiplayer games or live action events. The reputation of your platform will suffer if the flow of the events are disrupted by high latency.

Enhancing User Experience with Low Latency

Low latency message transfers in your app will help to enhance user experience in a number of ways

  • Express delivery: With low latency, all messages zip across swiftly. Users aren't kept waiting, so they stay engaged longer, enhancing user satisfaction.
  • Real-Time messaging: In a multiplayer game, live event, or trading app, 'real-time' becomes truly instant with low latency. User actions get almost immediate responses, making their experience exciting and enjoyable.
  • Upgrading call quality: Say goodbye to bad voice and jittery video calls. Low latency allows users to enjoy clear voice and smooth video chats, boosting productivity and connection.
  • Fast & smooth data transfers: Low latency handles diverse data formats efficiently. Whether users share a photo or a high-definition video, the transfer is efficient.

Overcoming Latency Challenges with Sceyt

When we developed our in-app chat API here at Sceyt, we made sure that it offers the lowest latency possible. To do that, we created our own Binary Messaging Protocol (BMP).

This innovative messaging protocol is custom-built to ensure fast, low-latency message delivery. It performs well even under the toughest network conditions.

Unlike traditional text-based protocols, BMP uses a binary data format. It applies Protocol Buffers (Protobuf) – a compact binary format designed by Google. Protobuf is ideal for low latency as it converts the data into binary code, making it much more lightweight which leads to faster data exchange.

But the innovation doesn't stop there. Sceyt’s BMP brings in an extra layer of stream control, so even if the network connectivity nosedives, BMP maintains efficiency and low latency.

Additionally, BMP supports both raw TCP sockets and WebSockets, enabling real-time bidirectional messaging in browsers – a must-have for a seamless interactive user experience.

Take The First Step Towards Low Latency In-App Chat

Today’s digital world demands speed and efficiency. This is especially true when it comes to interactive events and real-time messaging.

Sceyt’s low latency binary messaging protocol is designed for low latency, to make your chat user experience the best it can be. To see Sceyt in action, check out our demo here or start a free trial today.