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What is Jitter? Causes, Effects, and Solutions

What is Jitter? Causes, Effects, and Solutions

November 23, 20235 min read


Jitter | Cover Image.png


Jitter refers to the variation in the time delay between data packets over a network, typically measured in milliseconds. It is an essential performance metric in networked systems, impacting the quality of real-time applications like VoIP and video conferencing. Jitter results from network congestion, route changes, or improper queuing, and is mitigated using jitter buffers or optimized network configurations.

What does it really mean?

Imagine a commuter taking a train to work every day. Ideally, the train should arrive and depart at the same times daily, ensuring a predictable journey. However, if the train schedule becomes irregular, arriving early on some days and late on others, this inconsistency is similar to jitter in a network. Just as the commuter experiences uncertainty and potential disruption in their daily routine, jitter causes irregularities and disruptions in the flow of data packets, affecting the smoothness and reliability of network-dependent services.

What Causes Jitter?

Jitter in network communications is caused by several factors:

  1. Network Congestion: When too many packets travel through a network, it can lead to delays and varying speeds at which these packets are processed and delivered, causing jitter.
  2. Route Changes: If packets take different paths to reach their destination due to changing network conditions or routing algorithms, the varying path lengths and processing times can introduce jitter.
  3. Improperly Configured Network Equipment: Misconfigured routers, switches, or other network devices can lead to uneven packet processing and delivery times.
  4. Type of Traffic: Different types of network traffic (like video streaming, file downloads, or online gaming) have varying bandwidth requirements and priorities, which can affect how packets are queued and processed.
  5. Hardware Issues: Poor quality or failing hardware, such as cables, routers, or network interface cards, can also contribute to inconsistent packet delivery times.
  6. Software Issues: Bugs or inefficiencies in network-related software, including drivers and firmware, can introduce jitter.
  7. External Interference: In wireless networks, physical obstructions, distance from the router, and interference from other wireless devices can cause variability in packet transmission times.

What are the types of Jitter?

Random Jitter

This type arises from natural and unavoidable variations in system components and environmental factors. It's unpredictable and occurs sporadically, making it challenging to compensate for.

Deterministic Jitter

Unlike random jitter, deterministic jitter is predictable and repeatable. It's further divided into several subtypes:

  • Periodic Jitter: Caused by regular fluctuations in the network or system, like interference from other electronic devices or cyclic network activities.
  • Bounded Jitter: This jitter has a maximum amplitude and does not exceed a certain level, making it easier to manage.
  • Data-Dependent Jitter: Caused by specific patterns or types of data being transmitted, influencing the timing of the signal.

Gaussian Jitter

Named after the Gaussian (or normal) distribution, this type of jitter is random but follows a predictable distribution pattern, with most variations falling close to the average.

Absolute Jitter

It measures the deviation from the ideal timing of an event (like a data packet's arrival) without considering the relationship between successive events.

Relative Jitter

Also known as differential jitter, it measures the difference in variation between successive events, providing insight into how the jitter is accumulating over time.

Example of Jitter

Understanding these types helps in diagnosing network issues and implementing appropriate measures to mitigate jitter's impact, particularly in sensitive applications like real-time audio and video communications.

How Jitter Affects Real-Time Audio-Video Communication

The impact of jitter on real-time audio and video communications can be significant, as these applications are highly sensitive to timing inconsistencies. Here's how jitter affects them:

Audio Communications (like VoIP):

  • Distorted Sound Quality: Jitter can cause packets carrying voice data to arrive at uneven intervals, leading to gaps or overlaps in the audio stream. This results in choppy, garbled, or echoing audio.
  • Delay and Sync Issues: Significant jitter can introduce delays, causing synchronization problems between the audio and other elements in a call, like video or shared screens.

Video Communications:

  • Frame Drops and Freezing: Inconsistent packet arrival times can lead to missing frames, causing the video to freeze or skip, reducing the fluidity and quality of the visual experience.
  • Resolution Fluctuations: Adaptive streaming technologies may respond to jitter by lowering the video resolution to maintain a more stable stream, leading to a noticeable drop in video quality.

For both audio and video communications, the user experience can be severely impacted. Conversations may become difficult to follow, and meetings or collaborative sessions can be less effective due to the distractions and misunderstandings caused by poor audio and video quality.

How to Reduce Jitter?

  1. Use Jitter Buffers: Jitter buffers temporarily store incoming packets to smooth out the delay variation before they are processed. This can significantly reduce the effects of jitter, but it may introduce a slight delay.
  2. Optimize Network Infrastructure:
    • Upgrade Network Hardware: Using high-quality routers, switches, and cables can minimize internal network delays.
    • Improve Network Layout: Simplifying network routes and reducing the number of hops between the source and destination can help reduce jitter.
  3. Implement Quality of Service (QoS):
    • Prioritize Traffic: QoS settings allow you to prioritize time-sensitive data (like VoIP and video) over less critical data, reducing congestion and jitter for these applications.
    • Bandwidth Management: Allocating sufficient bandwidth for high-priority traffic can prevent network congestion and reduce jitter.
  4. Monitor and Manage Network Load: Regularly monitoring network traffic to identify and manage peak usage times can help in preemptively addressing potential congestion issues.
  5. Use Wired Connections Where Possible: Wired connections are generally more stable and less prone to jitter compared to wireless connections, which are more susceptible to interference.
  6. Update Software and Firmware: Keeping network device firmware and software updated can ensure optimal performance and reduce jitter.
  7. Deploy Traffic Shaping Techniques: These techniques manage data flow and packet handling to ensure smooth transmission of time-sensitive data.
  8. Optimize for Low Latency: Choosing internet service providers (ISPs) and hosting solutions with lower latency can also help in reducing jitter.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is jitter vs latency?

Jitter refers to the variability in the time delay of data packets arriving over a network, highlighting the inconsistency in packet transmission. Latency, on the other hand, is the total time it takes for a data packet to travel from its source to its destination, representing the overall delay in the network. While jitter impacts the quality and smoothness of real-time communications, latency affects the speed and responsiveness of the entire network.

Is jitter a lag?

Jitter is not exactly the same as lag; rather, it refers to the variability in packet delay in a network. Lag generally denotes overall delay (latency), while jitter specifically addresses the inconsistency in this delay.

How much jitter is okay?

Acceptable jitter levels depend on the application: for general browsing, up to 40 milliseconds is typically fine, but for real-time applications like VoIP or video conferencing, jitter should be below 30 milliseconds. Consistently exceeding these thresholds can noticeably degrade the quality of the network service.


  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jitter
  • https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jitter
  • https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/html/rfc3393



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