Perhaps nothing reveals the deficiencies of an internet connection for a home user more than online gaming. Gaming is affected by latency and other issues that you often will not notice when checking your email or streaming TV shows or movies on Netflix or Flex TV. A common issue causal users face is that they equate a good connection with a fast connection, and with gaming, it is more about consistency than speed.
Download and Upload Speeds
While this may seem counterintuitive to the average internet user, online games are low on the list of bandwidth-intensive activities. In fact, game developers spend a great deal of time ensuring that as little information as possible is transmitted as efficiently as possible between the player and the game server. These data packets are often limited to player input, player location, communication and world state. How much speed is actually required for that depends on the game. But the average online game played on the PC requires just a 3 Mbps download and a 2 Mbps upload, which is well below broadband.
Online games often provide recommendations based on their particular services. Microsoft recommends 3 Mbps down and 0.5 Mbps up for the Xbox One consoles. Sony recommends 2 Mbps up and 2 Mbps down for the PlayStation 4 and 5 consoles, and Nintendo recommends 3 Mbps up and 1 Mbps down for its Switch in either handheld or console mode.
High Latency Is the True Enemy of Online Gamers
Latency refers to the amount of time it takes for you to transmit data to a server and receive a response. This also referred to as ping rate, and you will often hear online gamers discussing their ping to the game server. The lower the ping the better. The first factor in latency is the distance between you and the server, which is why most multiplayer games have regional servers. Another factor is congestion, which is why online games often have worse pings on the day of a new patch everyone is excited about. A third factor is your internet connection type and the latency that you can expect from it.
The Best Internet Services for Online Gaming
Typically, anything below 100 milliseconds is acceptable for online gaming. Some online games recommend 40-60 ms. But most gamers can feel the difference when they are in the 20-40 ms sweet spot, and highly skilled players can feel the difference even lower. Latency can never be too low!
Fiber internet is currently the best because latency is in the 11-14 ms range and download/upload speeds are well beyond the minimums for online gaming. Cable is a close second with latency in the 15-35 ms range. DSL is in the 25-43 ms range, which is good enough in most cases. Satellite is often well above 500 ms, which makes it unacceptable, but the newly launched Starlink is in the 20-88 ms range, which is acceptable. Other options include 5G, 4G LTE home internet and fixed wireless, but we currently lack enough data to estimate the latency that you can expect. Less than 100 ms, however, is certainly likely.
Keep Lag Low
You can introduce lag, which you want to avoid at all costs in order to take advantage of the lowest latency that your ISP and online game can provide you. Use an Ethernet-based adapter rather than Wi-Fi if possible. Regularly update firmware and drivers and power cycle your network equipment. Connect to the closest server available, and assign static IP addresses for faster communication.
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