What is packet loss and what causes it? Read this complete network packet loss troubleshooting guide with reviews of the best software

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When it comes to monitoring network performance, it is crucial to knowing how to stop packet loss of any kind – Internet, Wi-Fi or ping. In this article you will learn about the advantages and disadvantages of high packet loss and how to deal with it in your system.

I’ve also compiled a list of five of the most effective packet loss elimination software. Any of these solutions can help you get your work done. However, I will explain why I use Network Performance Monitor or VoIP & Network Quality Manager from SolarWinds and why you use one solution over the other.

What is packet loss?

Before we get to packet loss, let’s unpack the packets. Packets, or network packets, are small units of data transmitted over a network. Everything you do on the internet, from sending emails to downloading gifs, is made up of packages. Packets are sent to their destinations in the most sensible way to maintain network efficiency. This allows the network to more evenly distribute its load across many pieces of equipment, improving performance.

What does packet loss mean? Often packets do not successfully make it through the network to their destination. Internet packet loss, sometimes called latency, occurs when packets are lost in transit during their journey. Loss of Wi-Fi packets is likely to occur in private wireless networks because they can easily be lost or discarded when sent over the air. This is even more likely on long-distance Internet connections, since the packets are farther away and thus have more room for error.

Unsuccessful packets slow down network speeds, cause congestion, and impact network throughput and bandwidth. Packet loss can also be expensive. If you are not doing everything you can to reduce packet loss in your system, you must. 

What causes packet loss?

There are many causes of packet loss, most of which are unintentional. The most common cause of packet loss is network congestion.

  1. Network congestion

Think of packets moving across your network like cars cruising down a freeway. At certain times of the day, such as during rush hour or after lunch when all employees in a large company are returning to their desks, there are too many cars on the road. It gets even worse when a four-lane freeway narrows to a two-lane road and many cars want to merge at exactly the same time. It is inevitable that some cars cannot collide and reach their destination on time.

Road traffic is a fact, as is packet loss. Networks are not indestructible or infallible, and they have space limitations.

When network traffic reaches maximum capacity, packets have to wait for delivery. Unfortunately, packets are the first things left behind when a network tries to catch up with traffic. The connection can only handle so much. Fortunately, most software these days will come back for the discarded packets, either automatically resending the data or slowing down the transmission speed to give each packet a chance to get through.

  1. Network hardware problems

Slippery, old, or otherwise obsolete hardware can severely weaken your network. Firewalls, routers and network switches consume a lot of electricity. As your business grows but your hardware doesn’t grow with it, you may experience packet loss or even a complete loss of connectivity.

  1. Software error

Unchecked bugs in your system can affect network performance and prevent packets from being transmitted adequately. Sometimes restarting your hardware solves this problem, but since hardware updates often introduce bugs, the whole thing needs to be patched. 

  1. Overloaded devices

In simple terms, this means your system is running at a higher capacity than it was designed to handle. In fact, packets on congested devices sometimes reach their destinations, but until then, the network is too weak to process the packets and send them back. Many devices have buffers to hold packets until they can be sent. However, these buffers can fill up quickly and excess packets are still discarded.

  1. Security Threats

We also cannot ignore the possibility that someone is intentionally tampering with your network and causing packet loss. Packet drop attacks have become popular among cybercriminals in recent years. Essentially, a hacker breaks into your router and instructs it to drop packets. If you experience a sudden drop in packet success or a significant slowdown in network speed, you could be in the middle of an attack.

There is also such a thing as a Denial of Service (DoS) attack, where legitimate users are denied access to their emails, files, or online accounts due to a cybersecurity threat. Hackers perform a denial of service attack by flooding the network with too much traffic, causing the network to crash. The attackers then take advantage of this vulnerability. If your system is already under attack, there isn’t much you can do about packet loss, but if you act fast enough, you can use an access control list (ACL) to block the hacker’s IP address.

When it comes to network maintenance and cybersecurity, I think it’s best to embrace Murphy’s Law – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. I like to go “so you should be prepared” to the end. Invest in a SIEM solution, create a disaster recovery plan, update your firewall and, as always, keep up to date with the latest antivirus software.

Such attacks are rare – there are more common causes of packet problems. If you’re experiencing packet loss, it’s probably just your network.

  1. Insufficient infrastructure to handle packet loss
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Sometimes packet loss isn’t the fault of the network alone. Many IT administrators assemble a network monitoring system from various tools. Since most tools have limited functionality because they are designed for a specific purpose, the network is not fully protected. Without a comprehensive, seamless network monitoring solution, the ability to stop or prevent packet loss falls through the cracks.

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How to reduce packet loss

You’re wondering how to reduce packet loss. Before we delve into packet loss fixing options, it is worth saying that there is no way to completely stop packet loss. 0% packet loss is unattainable as the causes such as network problems, too many users or an overloaded system are bound to surface. Any solutions recommended here or elsewhere are ways to fix the problem after the fact, not prevent it.

But there are some best practices you can try for yourself to fix high packet loss.

  1. Check your connections: First, remove the obvious options. Make sure your cables and connectors are plugged in properly.
  2. Reboot your system: If you haven’t turned off your system routers or hardware in a while, now is the time to do so. This could give your network the boost it needs to fix small glitches or bugs.
  3. Try wired connections instead of Wi-Fi: With everything connected over Wi-Fi these days, packets are more likely to be dropped. Using an Ethernet connection instead of Wi-Fi can help move things along. A fiber optic connection is even better.
  4. Remove anything that can cause static electricity: Cut off surrounding cameras, devices with Bluetooth, wireless speakers and headphones. You may also want to temporarily turn off your firewall as it uses a lot of bandwidth and you should not run more than one firewall program at a time.
  5. Update your software: It’s time to stop putting off your software updates. A current operating system is less error-prone, which inevitably leads to fewer opportunities for packet loss.
  6. Replace outdated hardware: The same concept applies to your network infrastructure. Take some time to make sure your hardware is in good condition.
  7. Use QoS settings: Quality of Service (QoS) settings help you manage packet loss by scaling your network resources accordingly. This is especially important if your network carries resource-intensive data such as streaming content, online gaming, video calls, or VoIP. QoS settings direct more network traffic to the places that need it.

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Five top products to minimize packet loss

Software cannot completely fix high packet loss. The key to preventing or mitigating the effects of packet loss is network visibility. A problem you see is a problem you can solve. The tools listed below not only provide specific packet loss functionality, but can also be used to give you a more comprehensive view of your network. The most important steps in troubleshooting packet loss are determining exactly what is causing the latency, and then doing your best to maintain a healthy network. Both tasks are accomplished with network monitoring best practices.

Network Performance Monitor (NPM)

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM) is one of the best comprehensive network monitoring tools you can buy. It tops so many of my lists because its approach to network visibility is second to none. A variety of network visualization tools, including Orion® intelligent maps, geographic maps, and the SolarWinds network atlas, give you useful, detailed ways to see what’s happening on your network.

NPM is an excellent choice for admins who need to monitor a large system environment – the hop-by-hop packet path maps are particularly useful because you can quickly see if the problem is inside or outside the network. This tool provides the information you need to quickly start solving the problem. The software is excellent for highly specific troubleshooting to eliminate packet loss.

Using the proprietary NetPath™ network path analyzer, you can determine where an application or the network itself is responsible for your packet loss. This feature highlights the problem links in red, making troubleshooting easier. Also, NetPath shows each router and switch in the network route as a node. Hovering over the node will get the latency and packet loss statistics.

Similarly, the LUCID (logical, usable, customizable, interactive, drill-down) user interface in the NPM gives you a full summary of all network activity, device status, and alerts so you can see how your system is doing without having to switch back and forth between different screens. Bonus: The NPM is fully customizable. Being able to see everything is great, but at the same time nobody wants to be constantly bombarded with so much information. It’s easy to play around with the configurations in NPM so you only see what you want, when you want to see it.

The auto-discovery function in the Network Performance Monitor also deserves a special mention. After you set it up for the first time, it will automatically repeat itself, so any changes made to the network will reflect in the tool. It also compiles a list of all network devices in your area and creates a network map. Finally, the NPMSNMP Monitoring Capabilities and receives SNMP alerts so you can see which routers and network switches are nearing capacity. Now you can fight packet loss before it even happens.

VNQM

SolarWinds VoIP & Network Quality Manager (VNQM) is specifically designed to focus on the network conditions required for successful VoIP deployment. By retrieving call data from Cisco Unified Communications Manager and Avaya Aura Communication Manager, you can easily determine what is causing latency, jitter, and call noise.

Voice over IP (VoIP) is difficult for IT departments to negotiate because it is difficult to provide reliable, high-quality telephone service over a network where a multitude of applications are already competing for bandwidth. QoS settings can help by redirecting bandwidth to the applications that need it most, which is helpful, but you need a way to troubleshoot voice calls and insight into their performance metrics. Since packet loss can be even more of a problem on networks with voice systems, when solving this problem you should move to a more specialized tool like VNQM over a more comprehensive packet loss monitoring solution like SolarWinds Network Invest in Performance Monitor.

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The VNQM communicates with many different systems, resulting in a richer monitoring experience. However, it’s a good idea to get a basic understanding of Cisco and the Orion platform. If you are already working on Orion servers, you can equip the VNQM with the Orion Platform High Availability. This protects your system environment from operating system crashes, network connectivity and availability problems in your database.

The dashboard gives you an overview of the path each voice call takes in the form of a dialing chart like a speedometer in a car. The visualization module shows the status of each path using color-coded states. These features make it easier for you to get a visual grip on VoIP monitoring across your network. do you need any more information? Read more about how VNQM helps monitor packet loss.

Paessler PRTG Network Monitor

According to Paessler, you need three sensors to fix high packet loss. PRTG Network Monitor provides them all so you can easily ping packet loss. The ping sniffer sensor measures your network availability, calculates the packet loss rate for each device on your network and breaks it down into a percentage, giving you historical and current data in the form of dials and pie charts. The one-way Quality of Service (QoS) sensor lets you keep an eye on network paths, which is a big step in reducing packet loss. Finally, the Cisco IP SLA Sensor measures packet loss specifically for Cisco devices, which comes in handy when working with VoIP.

PRTG is also unique because most of its features focus on packet loss prevention. Prevent network congestion by selectively blocking traffic. This tool has a comprehensive alerting system that notifies you when any alerts or unusual metrics have been detected on your network. Use this, combined with the other features, to trace traffic or bottlenecks back to the source before they become a problem. Also, it’s one of the few systems on my list that supports cloud-based services.

Like SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, PRTG Network Monitor has an auto-detection feature. With automatic detection, the PRTG Network Monitor automatically divides your network into segments and categorizes them by pinging specific IP ranges. From this point on, PRTG automatically detects all your connected devices and systems and creates custom sensors for them. Auto-discovery is the shortcut that ends all shortcuts in my opinion. This feature saves configuration time, making it quicker and easier to set up than other software options.

Overall, I like PRTG because it offers a compelling combination of visibility, scalability, and ease of use. You get everything you need to monitor your network in a single device – auto-discovery, network monitoring, NetFlow analysis, cloud monitoring, VMware monitoring and database monitoring. The only cause of packet loss that PRTG is not responsible for is illegal tampering. However, since this is not very common, this may not be a problem for you.

ManageEngine OpManager

The tools I mentioned would be useful for businesses of all sizes, from small and medium sized businesses to large corporations, both in terms of capabilities and price. However, ManageEngine OpManager focuses on network management for large multi-vendor enterprise IT networks. The key to this product is unification. For example, OpManager wins the Best Dashboard award for its unique balance of inclusivity and individuality. This tool features a clean and sophisticated dashboard that provides a comprehensive view of everything in your network infrastructure – from applications to printers to your entire wireless network. It is particularly well suited for large organizations as the dashboard is customizable from user to user without sacrificing continuity and sharing across the board. Out-of-the-box features include network health monitoring, VoIP monitoring, Cisco NBAR reporting, network mapping, server monitoring, and more.

Regarding packet loss, OpManager uses SNMP to constantly monitor network health on all devices. Controller displays emit alerts called “traps” that are immediately displayed on the dashboard. Traps can also be configured to send text or email notifications to the user. There are separate alerts specific to packet loss that will not only let you know when there are cases of packet loss in your system, but also which device is responsible. When you click the notification, OpManager will take you to a new page about the device and visually present the performance metrics. Detect, isolate, and fix packet loss problems with just a few clicks.

Nagios XI

Like every other network monitoring tool on this list, Nagios XI helps reduce packet loss by cataloging all devices connected to your network and displaying relevant performance metrics on a customizable dashboard. Dashboard options and settings can be viewed directly in your web browser.

Nagios XI is a strong candidate to check out if you’re looking for package troubleshooting help. It records and stores performance data that you can use to run various traffic scenarios in your downtime. This adds a whole new dimension to troubleshooting and packet loss prevention. Knowing which device is causing packet loss and latency is one thing, but using this information to plan ahead dramatically reduces the risk of high packet loss in the future. Automatically generated capacity charts facilitate proactive planning. Custom reports provide specific details about network events. This tool’s alerting systems send notifications to non-IT staff with outage details, keeping everyone in the loop and working toward problem resolution.

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I recommend Nagios Core for developing a tool that doesn’t sacrifice performance for openness and flexibility. This product is based on the Nagios Core 4 monitoring engine instead of SNMP, which is said to enable greater efficiency. It performs active and passive host checks, monitors network performance, tests service, collects system information, and more. Free plug-ins are available in the plug-ins library so you can get even more out of this software.

Nagios XI is the most versatile tool on my list in scope, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your system and price point. This software will monitor cloud-based networks, virtual systems, remote sites, wireless systems and the traditional WAN. On the other hand, Nagios XI is not that diverse when it comes to OS compatibility as it only runs on CentOS and RHEL Linux. You can work around this if you have VMware or Hyper-V machines.

Nagios XI comes from the Nagios Core family of free, open-source software. Unfortunately, Nagios XI is not free. To get a user interface, GUI features, and full functionality, you have to pay for either the Standard or Enterprise editions of Nagios XL. Nagios Core offers a 60-day free trial of this tool.

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How to fix packet-loss

Detecting, fixing and preventing packet loss is the key to optimal network performance. I want to reiterate that there is no surefire way to eliminate packet loss from your system forever. In fact, you’re bound to encounter it because packet loss just happens. Networks are not infallible.

However, you can take steps to improve your packet loss situation. I suggest starting with a well-rounded tool like SolarWinds NPM or, if your packet loss is mostly VoIP, SolarWinds VNQM. Both methods will get you the most bang for your buck, as these tools make it much easier to figure out why your network is dropping packets. You’ll get better insight into packet loss, troubleshooting tools, and an incredible range of additional network monitoring features. It’s worth trying to mitigate the effects of packet loss, thereby increasing productivity and reducing your bandwidth requirements. Take advantage of the free trials available to find the network packet loss monitoring solution that’s right for you.


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