Online games can be a great way to unwind and escape from reality. Many of the most-popular games offer online multiplayer modes, bringing thousands and thousands of people together to play. And when you go to play online, whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, you don’t want internet interruptions when you game.
A fast and reliable internet connection can help minimize disruptions and reduce latency and lag time. Solid internet is even more important as games get more complex — for example, in fast-paced first-person shooters.
But how can you be sure your internet is up to the task? It’s important to select the right provider, plan, and connection type. This article has the info you need to make a good choice.
Why internet speed matters for online gaming
Internet speed is measured by two factors: Download speed and upload speed. Download speed refers to how long it takes your gaming console (e.g., Xbox or PlayStation) or computer to receive information from the game server. Upload speed refers to how long it takes to upload information from your device to the server. Then you have a third factor, latency, which is the time it takes from initiating an action on your gaming device to that action being registered by the internet-connected service.
For example, if you click a button to shoot a gun or throw a punch, you want that action to be registered in the game ASAP. A low latency rate can help ensure just that. However, if your internet connection is slow overall, it may not matter at all because you’re struggling to load enough data for the rest of the game to be playable in the first place.
Most modern gaming consoles recommend internet speeds of at least 3 Mbps to ensure a user-friendly experience. But that’s the absolute bare minimum — and most home internet plans are much faster anyway. However, there’s so much more to the decision than just looking at a single number.
Having at least a 25 Mbps connection is a good rule of thumb. If you want to maximize your gaming experience, though, look for speeds of 100 Mbps and higher, which allow for significantly faster uploads and downloads.
Megabits per second (Mbps) is a standard measure used for internet bandwidth or connection speeds. The higher the Mbps number, the more bandwidth and the faster the internet connection.
With high Mbps, you can enjoy a more streamlined experience. Movies will stream faster, you’ll be able to upload photos and other files online more easily, and you’ll be able to game without interruption.
It’s important to note that most internet service providers (ISPs) advertise the download speed only — you’ll need to go to the fine print to find the upload speed too. While most internet services offer faster downloads than uploads, if you’re looking to game, upload speeds are quite important. You want to find a service that has good, reliable uploads.
Fiber-optic internet (or simply, “fiber”) is the fastest type of commercially available internet. It relies on fiber-optic cables made of electricity-resistant glass to transmit internet data. This sets it apart from DSL internet (which uses copper wires on the telephone system) and cable internet (which uses television coaxial cables).
Most fiber internet plans currently offered have speeds of 200 to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps), although some boast speeds as high as 2,000 Mbps (2 Gbps). Another benefit of fiber internet is that it’s more resistant to interruptions from inclement weather or power outages, as the systems are typically newer and entirely underground even in residential areas.
With fiber internet, Mbps download and upload speeds are more likely to be the same. DSL and cable typically offer competitive download speeds, but much slower upload speeds.
Another major bonus of fiber internet for gaming is low latency. Fiber internet is typically a dedicated line directly to your home, not shared with multiple homes in the area, so your internet is delivered quickly and consistently. Having low and consistent latency is great for multiplayer gaming.
Although it has great perks and offers the best online gaming experience, be aware that fiber-optic internet isn’t available in even a majority of cities in the U.S. It’s especially hard to get in rural areas, because it requires an entirely new rollout of infrastructure that is expensive to implement.
If you’re a serious gamer, you shouldn’t take your choice of internet connection lightly. Even if you game just for fun, you want to be able to make the most of your hobby with an appropriate internet plan that ensures a user-friendly experience and minimal frustrating interruptions.
So, how can you choose the right internet plan to suit your needs?
Compare providers in your area
There are a lot of internet service providers on the market, including Spectrum Internet, Frontier, AT&T Fiber, Verizon Fios, Xfinity Internet, and Cox, to name just a handful. Many cities have local providers, too, or municipal internet service run by the local government. However, not all big-name providers operate in all areas — operators typically have a monopoly in a geographic area.
If you live in a rural area, in particular, the diversity of ISPs available might be limited to just one. A quick online search will allow you to see what providers are in your area so you can create a list of possible options.
Once you have a list of providers, do your due diligence. Start with the speeds, of course. Check those uploads! Then, research each provider’s terms and conditions. Will they lock you into a contract? What are the termination fees like? How difficult is the setup process (e.g., will they provide an optimized router and modem)? What’s their customer service like?
It’s a great idea to read customer reviews to get a sense of what you can expect. You can also ask friends, family, co-workers, and others in your area for tips regarding the best internet providers.
Check speeds and plans offered by available providers
Once you’ve narrowed down your list and picked a potential ISP, check out which types of internet they offer. Most providers offer more than one option, such as DSL internet, cable internet, fiber internet, etc.
Once you’ve picked a type of internet, start assessing the different plan options available. Most providers offer plans with varying Mbps tiers. They may also have a data cap — multiplayer online gaming uses a lot of data, and that can be a concern.
Again, make sure to read the fine print of any plan. For example, if you have a set data limit included in your plan, you don’t want to be surprised by unexpected overage charges when your monthly bill arrives.
Choose a plan you can afford
Finally, consider the price point when picking a home internet option. High-speed internet is a great asset to have, but you don’t want to break the bank paying for it.
The good news is that fast internet connections are becoming increasingly accessible. While you may not be prepared to shell out the big bucks for the best internet service available (like a top-tier fiber plan), you can still have a strong gaming experience with a lower-tier plan — just make sure it hits the minimum requirements you’ve set.
Think about your router and in-home access
The best internet connection can go to waste if you don’t keep in mind how you get that internet from the modem to your computer.
For the best gaming experience, you want to use a hardwired connection. Ideally, you’ll route an ethernet cable from your router directly to your PC or game console.
Most people will want to stick to the simplicity of wireless, though. If you must go with Wi-Fi, make sure you get a great router for gaming (or mesh Wi-Fi system) with support for the data speeds you have available. A typical budget router won’t be able to support above 100 Mbps connection, and even top-tier routers often won’t handle over 300 Mbps. So, make sure you read the specs of a potential router before you buy something that won’t work for your speeds.