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Understanding Buffering: What Is It and How Does it Happen?
Updated · Aug 16, 2023
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Buffering occurs when there’s a delay in loading and playing media files, resulting in interruptions and pauses during playback.
According to an Amazon survey in 2021, the average video buffering ratio worldwide was 40.3%, indicating that viewers faced buffering issues in over one-third of their streaming sessions.
Whether you're streaming a movie or listening to your favorite music, the dreaded buffering symbol can quickly turn a pleasurable experience into an exercise in patience.
In this article, you’ll learn what buffering is, how it happens, and how to deal with it.
What is Buffering?
Recent statistics show over 5.16 billion internet users worldwide, most of which have experienced buffering videos.
Buffering is a technical issue that disrupts the playback of digital media. It is a data preloading stage that ensures smooth and uninterrupted content delivery.
When buffering occurs, your device collects a portion of the media file before playing it, creating a reserve or "buffer" of data. Its primary purpose is to prevent disruptions in playback.
By buffering data in advance, the system aims to maintain a steady flow of media, ensuring a smoother and more enjoyable viewing or listening experience.
Buffering occurs for many reasons, and each happens because of different factors.
Why Does Buffering Occur?
Buffering can occur due to fluctuations in internet connection speeds, limited bandwidth, or temporary network congestion.
It’s a widely known inconvenience, especially since 91.8% of internet users watch online videos weekly. Most of them have suffered through buffering videos at least once.
Understanding the underlying causes of this issue is crucial to addressing and minimizing its occurrence. It can also help you make the most out of your media experiences.
Below are the types of buffering and how they occur.
Internet connection is a significant factor in buffering issues. When your internet connection is slow, the data flow becomes sluggish, and the playback stops from time to time.
These pauses are buffering moments where your device has to wait for the data to catch up before it can continue.
There can be different factors that will affect your internet speed. Sometimes, ISP throttling or ISP maintenance can be one of the reasons. Knowing the signs of ISP throttling or ISP maintenance can help you understand why your media is buffering.
A VPN service can also slow internet speeds because it adds more steps in getting data from your home internet to your provider and back. As a result, if you're streaming a high-quality video while a VPN is running in the background, it will take a long line of data for the video to play smoothly.
💡 Did You Know?
Paraguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Gabon, and Egypt have the slowest Internet in the world, with average speeds as low as 4 Mbps. Several factors cause these countries’ frustrating internet connections. The most common are regular power outages, economic struggles, and the lack of resources and investments.
Weak Wi-Fi Signal
Buffering due to weak Wi-Fi signals means the connection between the Wi-Fi router and your device is not strong enough.
If you're far away from your router, it can weaken the Wi-Fi signal. This is similar to conversing with someone standing far away from you. The farther you are, the harder it is to hear and understand each other.
The Wi-Fi signal weakens when your device is far from the router, and the data transmission slows down. This can result in buffering as the data takes longer to reach your device.
One way to solve this problem is to flash your router. Flashing upgrades your router and boosts its performance, providing better connectivity and network coverage.
Exceeded Data Cap
An average of 1.145 trillion MB of data is created daily, and you consume some of that through videos, social media, and browsing. To control this consumption, most mobile data providers put a cap on their packages.
Exceeding your data cap means you've used up all the data your ISP allows for a certain period. Once you’ve reached that ceiling, your internet speed may slow down, or you may have limited data access.
Most people are careful about data usage to avoid exceeding their data cap and prevent buffering.
🎉 Fun Fact:
By 2025, experts predict that the amount of data generated and used will reach 180 zettabytes. In 2020, the total amount of data was 64.2 zettabytes. That’s 35.6% of the expected figure in five years.
The cache is a storage area where temporary files and data are stored to facilitate faster access and retrieval.
When the cache on your device is full, it slows down data retrieval for streaming. This leads to buffering pauses as your device struggles to find and access the data it needs, putting a strain on the device's resources, including memory and processing power.
Flushing your DNS cache from time to time helps you prevent this issue. Flushing also helps you avoid 404 errors, DNS spoofing, and unwanted access to your history.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) encrypt your data for security. However, as mentioned earlier, this slows your internet and causes media buffering.
A VPN’s encryption process adds extra work for your device and server, slowing the transfer speed. Moreover, VPN servers become crowded with multiple users, resulting in limited bandwidth. If it overloads, the data transmission slows down, and yes, it leads to buffering.
Too Many Devices
Using too many devices simultaneously strains your internet bandwidth. That’s because each device connected to your network requires a portion of your available bandwidth to consume data.
With the rise of smart living and the Internet of Things (IoT), it doesn’t come as a surprise if you have multiple devices at home. Experts believe that by the end of 2022, 29 billion devices will be on the IoT network.
IoT devices competing for the same limited bandwidth can result in slower internet speeds, leading to buffering.
Outdated devices may not have enough processing power or technology to handle streaming smoothly. An old smartphone, for instance, may struggle to process and play high-quality videos as they try to catch up with the data.
Additionally, outdated devices may not support the latest Wi-Fi standard. They may also have outdated software, resulting in slower internet speeds and compatibility issues.
💡 Did You Know?
There are approximately 10 billion mobile devices used worldwide, including outdated ones. That figure is also expected to grow in the coming years, as living with a smartphone has become a social norm.
How To Stop Videos From Buffering
Dealing with buffering during video playback can be annoying and ruin your viewing experience. Fortunately, there are practical methods you can take to overcome this issue.
With it, you can enhance your streaming experience and enjoy your favorite content without pauses and interruptions.
Here are some techniques that can help you stop videos from buffering:
- Check your internet connection.
- Pause the video and let it load.
- Lower the video quality.
- Close other bandwidth-consuming applications to free up bandwidth.
- Use a wired connection (connect an Ethernet cord to your computer or laptop).
- Clear your browser cache regularly to ensure optimal performance.
- Update your browser or streaming app to take advantage of any improvements or bug fixes.
- Disable browser extensions or add-ons.
- Restart your device to refresh the system and prevent glitches.
- Contact your ISP for further assistance.
If the problem persists across different devices and networks, it might be related to the content provider, and you may need to reach out to their support for more help.
👍 Helpful Article:
Nobody likes a slow internet connection, especially while streaming at home. For more clever hacks on getting rid of those inconvenient buffering videos and other disruptions, check out the articles below:
Buffering can disrupt your viewing or listening experience because of the unwanted pauses.
By knowing the causes of buffering, you can take proactive steps to minimize this inconvenience. Adopting the above practices can help you enjoy uninterrupted streaming and maximize your viewing pleasure.
Does the choice of streaming platform affect buffering?
Different streaming platforms have varying optimization levels and infrastructure, which can impact buffering. Some media handle buffering more efficiently than others.
Can antivirus or firewall software impact buffering?
Overly aggressive usage of antivirus or firewall settings may disrupt data flow, leading to buffering. Adjusting or temporarily turning off the settings can help identify if they are causing the problem.
Does the time of day affect buffering?
During peak usage hours, internet traffic may increase, leading to network congestion and increased buffering. It can be more prevalent during these times.
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