Post Menu and Details.
- Online Gaming Is Not Bandwidth Intensive
- Download and Upload Speed in Gaming
- The Real Key Factor Is Latency
- Gaming Platform Recommendations
- Factors That Affect Latency
- An Ethernet Connection Is Your Friend
- Turn Off Unnecessary Software and Devices
- Keep Everything Up-to-Date
- Power Cycle From Time to Time
- Final Thoughts
Reading time: ~4 minutes
Internet speeds are faster than ever in the United States, and many people recently gained access to 2 Gbps fiber connections. A common question among gamers is how much speed do you really need.
Online Gaming Is Not Bandwidth Intensive
A common assumption even among gamers is that online gaming requires significant bandwidth. It is understandable where the misconception comes from. Modern games are nearing photorealism, and there is, therefore, this presumption that the need for bandwidth has increased in lockstep. Not only is this not the case, but modern games actually require less bandwidth than games of the past. Game development companies have focused on minimizing the exchange of data and making it more efficient. This lets more people enjoy the game and, when applicable, lowers their server costs as well.
Download and Upload Speed in Gaming
It may surprise you to learn that a 5 Mbps connection is more than enough to play games online, and what is interesting about that is that it covers just about every connected person in the U.S. Even though a game looks photorealistic, you are not sending and receiving those pixels. Most of that happens client-side. What you are sending to the server is your inputs, player location, and communication, and what it is sending to you is the world state. These exchanges are often a matter of mere bytes.
The Real Key Factor Is Latency
What plays are a far greater factor in determining your online gaming experience is latency? As far as gaming is concerned, latency can best be described as the delay between you inputting a command—such as shooting your weapon—and the server receiving that information. You will sometimes notice people with bad latency since they will pop in and out as opposed to moving smoothly. When you have poor latency, you may be shooting at someone who has already moved on from that position.
Gaming Platform Recommendations
You can look at gaming platform recommendations to see that this is the case. Let us use Destiny 2 as an example. It is an online-only game involving fast-paced cooperative and competitive multiplayer. Xbox recommends a 3 Mbps connection, which is less than our 5 Mbps recommendation, and it recommends a latency of no more than 150 milliseconds, which is actually quite high. Steam, which is a PC platform, suggests that you can get by fine with just a 1 Mbps download speed!
Factors That Affect Latency
So, it is settled. Latency—also known as ping rate—will ensure a good online experience when it is low and result in a poor online experience when it is high. That begs the question, what causes high latency. You have to start with your baseline, which is your internet service provider. One reason that satellite internet has traditionally gotten a bad rap in the U.S. is the high ping rates. Fiber is currently the best at less than 15 ms. The cable is quite good at 15-35 ms. DSL is also decent at 25-50ms. Cell phone service, fixed wireless, and satellite—not counting Starlink—are hit or miss and usually more miss than hit.
An Ethernet Connection Is Your Friend
There is nothing you can do if your current ISP provides you with poor latency outside of switching to another provider. The good news is that most people in the U.S. with broadband internet access have rather decent latency. The reason that so many gamers have issues is that they connect to the internet via a Wi-Fi router and wireless adapter. You can game on a wireless connection. But most people do not have high-end equipment. In fact, many gamers use wireless routers supplied by their ISPs, and that is all but guaranteed to ensure that you kill your latency and thus your gaming experience. Connect your PC or console to the Internet via an Ethernet connection, and if that is not possible, then it absolutely is worthwhile to invest in a high-quality wireless router and a high-quality wireless adapter.
Turn Off Unnecessary Software and Devices
Another way that you can cause poor latency is connection congestion. Think of your internet connection as a highway. Latency is how fast the cars or data can travel. Your bandwidth represents the number of lanes. That highway has a point at which it becomes saturated with traffic. The data will need to slow down, and therefore the speed limit or latency will be reduced. You probably share your connection with other people in your household. That usually is not an issue. But there is some background software that generates a lot of traffic. Another issue is device count. The average home in the U.S now has 17 connected devices, and that can result in a lot of unnecessary traffic.
Keep Everything Up-to-Date
Another issue where you can see increased latency or general slowdowns is out-of-date software. Ensure that your operating system and gaming consoles are up to date. At least once a month, check to see if there is new firmware for your router. Outdated firmware is a common culprit. Update all other software you use, including drivers. This may seem like a big undertaking, which is why it can be very helpful to automate as much as possible and to make a checklist for the rest.
Power Cycle From Time to Time
Turn it off and then on again. While it is an IT meme, it is very helpful when it comes to routers and modems. These are essentially PCs but with far less memory. Caching issues do occur over time, and that can result in poor latency and other issues. Power cycling your router and modem for two minutes when you update your firmware and software once a month should be more than enough.
You can never have too much bandwidth. Game downloads are getting bigger and bigger, and a high-speed connection ensures that you spend less time downloading and more time playing. But if you are shopping around for an ISP, latency should be a focal point, and as a rule of thumb, anything more than 50 ms is probably a deal-breaker.
Thank you for reading!