Gaming online will test the limits of your internet connection. People seem to believe that the limiting factor is download speed, but it’s much more complicated than that. Even extremely high download speeds like 400 Mbps will not eliminate lagging if latency issues range above 100 milliseconds.
Internet service providers usually only advertise fast download speed, which can be misleading, but a fast internet connection does not necessarily mean a good internet connection. There is a lot more to having a quality internet connection, especially for gaming, than just having a high download speed.
But don’t worry, you won’t have to go through the fine print of your internet plan just to get the answers your looking for. In this article, we’ll take a look at the most important points about internet speed and gaming so you can know what kind of connection you need.
What download speed is best for gaming?
You might be shocked to learn that online gaming is not as intense on the bandwidth as most people think. Why is that? It’s because the picture of your video game is not rendered by your internet connection, as it is when you stream an online video, but by your PC’s or gaming console’s graphics card.
This means that the only information going over your connection is the buttons the player presses to control what’s going on. Ultimately this means you don’t need a lot of Mbps to play even modern games with high definition graphics. About 3 Mbps will do just fine.
The exception to this is if you’re gaming over a cloud-based server like Playstation Now or Stadia. We’ll get to this later in the article.
What upload speed is good for gaming?
But it’s not only download speed you have to consider. Online games are interactive, which means you are sending information back to a remote server. You need to consider your upload speed need as well. Luckily the same rule applies, and what you actually need is very small, only about 1 or 3 Mbps. These are speeds that even a poor internet connection can meet.
If you’re streaming on a console with a download speed of 3+ Mbps and an upload speed of 2+ with a latency of 100 ms (we’ll explain latency in the section below), you will have a reasonably smooth gaming experience. However, to be on the safe side, it’s recommended you have at least 5+ Mbps for downloads, and 3+ Mbps for uploads, and latency of between 50-100 ms.
Given the fact that most broadband internet connections have at least a speed of 25 Mbps, this is more than enough to have several consoles playing online at the same time.
Low latency equals smooth gaming
Download and upload speed are different than the speed at which the signal travels back and forth. Let’s look at an example to make this clear.
If you download a movie over a 5 Mbps DSL, it will take much longer than downloading it over a satellite connection at 50 Mbps. But if you are playing a game online, it’s the DSL that would be much more responsive because it has a low latency rate. The high latency rate of the satellite connection will likely cause too much lag.
Since most internet connections are more than adequate speed-wise to stream high-quality modern games, it really is worth paying attention to the latency of your internet connection. This is because latency is a measurement of how long a signal takes to go from device to remote server and back.
Sometimes called a ‘ping rate,’ high latency results in lag, while low latency results in a smooth gaming experience.
What factors impact latency?
Many factors will affect your latency:
- The distance between the server and the device (this is why online games have a regional server).
- The type of signal you have
- The number of routers the signal passes through.
Satellite internet has a much higher latency rate because it is transmitted wirelessly and has to travel up to a satellite and back down again to reach the remote server. On the other hand, cable connection has a much lower latency rate, and fiber optic cables have the lowest. Fiber-optic cables are much faster at transmitting data than copper lines.
What is the best internet connection for online gaming?
The best type of internet connection for online gaming is, without a doubt, a fiber-optic connection. Cable internet is in second place, and 5G is continually improving its latency features but is still not a reliable way to stream games. Latency information on 5G is hard to come by since it is still an emerging technology.
It is recommended that you keep your latency well below 100 ms for best results when gaming online.
|Fiber||Up to 2 Gbps||11 to 14 ms|
|Cable||Up to 1 Gbps||15 to 35 ms|
|DSL||Up to 100 Mbps||25 to 43 ms|
|5G||Up to 1 Gbps||–|
|4G LTE||Up to 100 Mbps||100 to 200 ms|
|Satellite||Up to 100 Mbps||594 to 624 ms|
How do you reduce lag if you have high latency?
If you have latency on the higher end, and lagging is a problem while playing online or streaming games, you can do a few things to reduce it and keep things running smoothly.
Plug into your router
Even the fastest wireless connections add a little more delay. Using an ethernet cable to plug into your router will eliminate this delay and make your connection that much more responsive. If you must use Wi-Fi, ensure your system is as close as possible to your router with nothing obstructing it.
Reset your router
This can sometimes improve your router or modem performance. Remember, minor latency differences can have a significant impact when it comes to lag, so it’s worth restarting your network devices just to get an incremental decrease in latency.
Ensuring your hardware drivers are regularly updated is a sure-fire way to ensure you’re getting the best possible performance. Updates also fix incompatibility issues and bugs that can cause problems with your connection.
Reduce traffic on your network
Make sure someone isn’t streaming an HD video on your network when you’re trying to play online. Turning off smart devices, pausing software and operating system updates are all ways to ensure the network isn’t getting too bogged down.
Use the nearest server
One of the most significant factors in latency is distance. A game will almost always connect to the closest server, but if you continue to experience latency issues and trying all of the above hasn’t made a difference, it’s worth double-checking that you connected to the closest server available.
What about cloud gaming?
Cloud gaming turns everything on its head. Services like Playstation Now or Stadia work by running the games you play on a remote server instead of on your system. This means your graphics card is not rendering the picture. Instead, the picture is sent over your internet connection, just like streaming an HD movie.
How does this change things for you? You will still need the same low latency discussed above, but you will also require much higher download and upload speeds, and in this case, the higher, the better.
Stadia recommends 35 Mbps for 4K quality, but if you can afford it and you use cloud gaming services, it’s crucial to invest in both low-latency fiber optics and high download speeds for the best results.