Finding the Best Internet for Gaming
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Finding the Best Internet for Gaming

When it comes to gaming, your Internet connection counts — big. You can be the most skilled and talented player in the world, but if your Internet connection doesn’t deliver, you won’t be able to deliver. Some of the main choices for Internet connection are DSL, cable, dial up, wireless, and satellite. Here is a brief rundown of each of these options:

Dial Up

Remember the days when AOL + dial up were our only options? Thankfully, the Internet has come a long way since the days of slow, tedious, unresponsive dial up! Today’s typical online gamer needs much more than just a dial up connection. Luckily, there are plenty of faster alternatives to dial-up for Internet gamers anywhere in the country.

Satellite

Satellite Internet is great for people who live in remote locations with few other options, but it’s not as reliable as some of your other choices. One of the biggest downfalls of satellite Internet is its latency, or in other words, the time it takes for your Internet signal to travel to a server. This will result in a higher than normal ‘ping’ during online gaming. You also have to be aware of possible bandwidth caps, which could limit the amount of time you spend playing games online.

Wireless

As with satellite, there is some concern with the reliability of wireless Internet (and by wireless, we mean mobile, not Wi-Fi). However, being cord-free is definitely a plus. Wireless Internet may be a good choice for the gamer on the go. A 4g wireless connection can get you online in your apartment, at a friend’s house, or even at the bus stop. If you are typically on the move, wireless may be a good choice for you. It’s not the best option for competitive gaming, or large game downloads, but if you just need to connect to sync saves or check out the leaderboards (two things the 3G version of the Playstation Vita uses its mobile connection for), wireless Internet will do.

Cable

Cable internet is known for its high speed and great bandwidth. However, its performance suffers when there are multiple users on the network and during peak hours. This could mean problems if you typically game during the evening or the weekend. The speed that cable Internet provides can make up for this short coming for most online gamers, but it can be a problem during heavy gaming weekends, like during the release of a new Call of Duty, or over the Christmas weekend, when everyone is online, playing their new games.

DSL

DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, uses analog telephone lines to deliver service. Don’t let the phone line fool you, DSL offers broadband speeds as fast as cable. Obviously, we’re fans of DSL here—it’s reliable, secure, and can deliver high-speeds at affordable prices. It’s one of the most widely available forms of broadband Internet in America. It does have some downsides though—some providers don’t offer those cable rivaling speeds, and some more rural areas can’t get it.

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 Verdict

While each of these options has benefits and weaknesses, when the intended use is for gaming, you can’t go wrong with DSL—it’s got the right combination of high-bandwidth, low latency, and affordability. If you want solid online gaming performance without breaking your budget, or getting involved with a cable company, DSL is where it’s at.

However, that does not mean that other Internet services will prevent you from gaming. If you enjoy simple web browser games, a satellite connection (or a slower DSL speed) should be fine. But if you want to stay competitive, get that 6 Mbps DSL connection. So where do all the connections fall? Let’s check out the online gaming Internet speed leaderboard:

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 DSL.com 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.

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