Latency vs The Speed of Light

Why real time collaboration and remote jamming won't ever be a reality - but Sessionwire can get you close!

Real time remote jamming and collaboration - The Holy Grail!!

I see it almost everyday online—even in reference to Sessionwire: “latency issue solved!” or, “zero-latency jamming.” So very sorry to be the bearer of bad news but, “Nope!” The cold, hard truth is Internet latency is here to stay. Sessionwire does have some tricks up its sleeve though, for a future release — a way to practically remove the experience of latency from the recording process. (We’ll be sharing more on that in a later post.)

In the field of networking, it’s generally accepted that the effective transmission speed over copper or optical fibre is roughly 2/3rds of the speed of light in vacuum. So, how fast is the Speed of Light? Well, if you could travel at the speed of light, you’d be able to zip around the Earth 7.5 times in one second.

Let’s look at a connection from LA to NYC as an example. According to Google Maps, the distance between them is about 4,489 km (2,789 miles). Travelling at Light Speed, which is 299,792 km/s, the trip would take approximately 15 milliseconds. Using the 2/3rd rule, the speed drops to 199,861 km/s, which means our trip would take around 23 milliseconds. But wait...That’s only counting one direction: from point LA to point NYC. Networking is all about response times, which means we need to also count the return trip back from NYC to LA. So—best case scenario? The trip there and back takes 46 milliseconds. Uh-oh.

Looking at the delay times generally used for various time-based effects —

- Phase shift .01 - 2 ms
- Flanger 2 - 10 ms
- Chorus 10 - 20 ms
- Doubling 20 - 50 ms
- Slap Echo 40 - 150 ms
— means, 46 ms puts us in Slap Echo territory already! gets even worse.

The actual distance will be longer because in the real world the lines won’t travel in a straight line. Repeaters, switches, transducers and routers will slow things down. The more ‘hops’ along the way the slower things get. Light bounces around when it travels through optical fibres. Given all of this, it’s probably safer to double the “ideal” response times for a more realistic latency estimate.

While there are ways to improve things in terms of latency, there is no magic bullet. 5G won’t save us, and the hype you read about zero latency is rubbish (unless someone successfully creates a wormhole — then you gotta know we’ll try to figure out a way to tunnel-in).

So, if all that’s a given, it’s looking like a jam session between LA and NYC is going to have to include a few bottles of tequila at each end, just to get the groove into the pocket. 100 ms +/- is a little too much to dial in your inner funk.

But before you throw up your hands (or just throw up) in defeat, we’re here — bucket in hand — to reassure you that most of the things you can do face-to-face in a recording studio environment, CAN be done successfully at a distance, despite the inescapable scourge of Internet latency! This includes overdubs, producing bands “live off the floor”, mix reviews, song writing, arranging, and so on.

This is where Sessionwire truly shines. And we’ll be blazing even brighter in the near future, as we unleash some pretty cool tech to make latency even more irrelevant. You’ll want to stay tuned for that! But in the meantime...the world can be your creative oyster.