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What’s the Best Internet for Gaming: A Breakdown

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Speed isn’t the end-all in the gaming world.

Gamers game on a multitude platforms: consoles, laptops and desktops, even mobile devices. Internet connection quality weighs heavily, not just speed.

Local video-game renderings – those that live in the gaming device – don’t suck in too much bandwidth. It’s essential to have a consistent connection between players and servers. Disruption of service can cost a gamer a kingdom.

Two key terms to understand the gaming game:

JITTER | It’s an irregular movement, variation or unsteadiness of the Internet signal to your device. It can derail a gamer just long enough and often enough to impact the outcome.

LATENCY | It’s the pause between a command given and when the computer carries it out. It can leave a gamer a sitting duck just long enough to have his goose cooked.

It’s difficult to determine the best Internet provider for gaming. Even the fastest networks could have issues with jitter and latency. Here’s a glimpse of how certain methods of Internet connection can hold up to a gamer’s demands.

Is DSL good for gaming?

DSL works for browsing and streaming, but increasing distance between your home and the ISP home office adversely affects reliability. Phone line quality plays a role in DSL’s dependability for gamers.

DSL speeds up to 6Mbps can support simple gaming that doesn’t include complex graphics. Speeds of at least 12Mbps best serve massive multiplayer online games. These include Aion: Unheaval, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning and World of Warcraft.

Is fiber-optic Internet good for gaming?

Fiber-optic Internet reigns as king of consistency. Outside factors can render other methods slow or inconsistent. These include time of day a device connects, and the number of users on the network. Fiber Internet delivers a strong signal and dependability, regardless of time or traffic.

Another advantage of fiber: Fast downloads. Games you’d download in the morning to play in the evening can be ready in five minutes.

Fiber Internet isn’t as available everywhere, although its footprint has grown.

Is satellite Internet good for gaming?

Satellite Internet technology has advanced to the point gaming can be an option. Satellite Internet’s journey creates inherent obstacles for the needed consistency in gaming, though. Real-time, multiple-player games aren’t best on satellite Internet.

A satellite Internet signal must travel 45,000, yet the latency can be less than a second. That’s enough to derail MMO game, though. Turn-based, strategy games, such as checkers or chess, aren’t a problem. Facebook role-playing games such as Farmville also can work.

Is wireless Internet good for gaming?

Wireless Internet introduces an element of portability and comfort. Users can take mobile devices to comfortable places in their homes. A wireless signal can carry higher latency, though. Wired Internet, connected by Ethernet, provides a more dependable signal.

As with satellite Internet, wireless has seen gains in dependability.

Is cable Internet good for gaming?

Peak hours become problematic for gamers on cable Internet connections. Mid-morning and late afternoon into the evening, Internet usage spikes. One cable Internet connection serves as many as 500 subscribers. This traffic slows signal speed and causes latency.

Higher price tiers provide increased consistency, although traffic can still factor in performance.

What’s America Using?

According to a study run by Pando Networks, the United States ranks 26th in Internet speed, with an average speed of 616 Kbps, which is…not good, especially for gaming. But that’s the average, and chances are you can beat it. DSL is affordable and many plans start at 3 Mbps and go up from there (1000 Kbps = 1 Mbps). For smooth online gaming, we’d recommend at least 6 Mbps. You can certainly play online with less, but if you’re into competitive gaming, 6 Mbps is a great starting point.

Check out the chart below, culled from data from the Leichtman Research Group and the FCC:

Company Approx. Subscriptions DSL (3Mbps+) Cable
Comcast 18,147,000 X
AT&T 16,427,000 X
Time Warner 10,344,000 X
Verizon 8,670,000 X
CenturyLink 5,554,000 X
Cox 4,500,000 X
Charter 3,654,600 X
Cablevision 2,965,000 X
Frontier 1,735,000 X
Windstream 1,355,300 X

Subscriptions to cable and DSL services are pretty evenly distributed among carriers. That’s important to know because these are the people you’re playing against online. If you’ve ever tried to play a game with a friend who has a poor connection, you know how frustrating it can be.

It should also be noted that AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Frontier and Google all offer fiber Internet, though the coverage is still limited and subscription numbers weren’t available for the chart. We didn’t address fiber in the section above because of that, but the general rule is, if fiber is in your area, and you can afford it, get it—it’s ridiculously fast.

Internet Speed FAQs

Still have some questions about Internet and gaming? We’ve got answers.

Is my Internet fast enough for online gaming?

The answer to that depends on a variety of factors. But let’s say you’re one of the many Americans with the “at least 3 Mbps” connection. At the lower end—toward the 3 Mbps side—online competitive gaming gets tough. First person shooters, team deathmatch games, fighting games, racing games, anything that require twitch reactions are out. You might be able to play them at non-peak times, or over a local area network with some friends, but if your goal is to reach the top of the leaderboard, you’ll need a connection with faster, more reliable speed. Remember, we’re talking about being competitive here, you might be able to still play them online, but only for funsies.

So what kind of gaming can I do with a 3 Mbps connection?

Any game that doesn’t require quick reaction times and a super steady connection are still fine. Some MMORPGs like World of Warcraft work fine. Turn-based strategy games, high-score games (which only require uploading and downloading scores), and some sports games can still be played too.

Is my Internet fast enough for Xbox Live?

Short answer: yes. Unless you have dial-up, you’ll be able to connect to Xbox Live through your Xbox 360 or Xbox One, peruse the online store, download games and demos, check out your friend’s activity and more. Will you be able to reliably game through Xbox Live? See the answers above.

Is my Internet fast enough for League of Legends?

We get this question a lot. For the uninitiated, League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena game (also referred to as a MOBA, or a lords management game). All MOBAs are competitive games, so our “at least 6 Mpbs” recommendation still stands. That said, anecdotal evidence from the League of Legends forums indicate a connection as low as 2 Mbps can work, so it’s worth a shot if you have a slow connection. League of Legends not your favorite? The same connection advice applies to other MOBAs, like Dota 2 and Heroes of Newerth.

Can I download games on my Internet connection?

Of course. Any connection will allow you to download games, just like any connection will let you access your favorite website. The difference is in the wait. The slower the speed, the longer you’ll need to wait to play your game. For example, a fast fiber connection of 50 Mbps can download a 5GB game in less than 15 minutes. That same game would take at least a couple of hours on a 6 Mbps connection. The good news is, you’ll get your game either way. You just might have to wait till tomorrow morning to play it.

The best Internet for online gaming

1. Fiber

That’s a no brainer. Fiber is the fastest, so of course it’s going to top the list. Keep in mind though that fiber isn’t as widely available as other Internet types and it’s definitely more expensive.

2. Cable/DSL

No one likes a tie, but these two can go either way. In some places cable can get almost as fast as fiber, but it’s going to be just as expensive. In other areas, high-speed DSL can beat cable, and probably come in at lower price too (you can check that for yourself, if you want, this is after all). So we’re putting them both in second. They’re like the yin and yang of Internet technologies, their respective pros and cons balance each other out in most cases.

3. Satellite

Most satellite providers don’t recommend competitive online gaming, mostly because of data caps. Some games are still plenty playable on a satellite connection. Of course you can also still download games to play offline. This shouldn’t be any gamer’s first choice, but if it’s what you got, you can still play.

4. Dial-up

Don’t try to game on dial-up. It’s just not fun.