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Get the edge in multiplayer online gaming: Pick the right broadband package

Wednesday, November 22nd 2017

When it comes to online, competitive, multiplayer gaming, choosing the right broadband package can be the difference between ruling the roost and languishing in the leaderboards.

If you play on an Xbox or PlayStation, a PC or Mac, or on a phone or a portable console, here's how to pick the right broadband package to ensure that it's you who has the advantage.

Sky tops the leaderboard for best gaming ISP

To get the edge in online gaming, your broadband connection needs to be both responsive and reliable with a fast enough set of upload and download speeds to make updates, gameplay sharing and streaming run with optimum efficiency.

Whether it be on a PC or console, the majority of broadband providers are well-equipped for gaming purposes, but it’s Sky that consistently ranks highest across key performance metrics including peak time latency, packet loss and connection stability.

Get Sky Broadband

But Sky’s top spot is hotly contested, with competitors like Virgin Media and Plusnet placing a close second and third in many instances, and that’s why we’ve compiled all the information you need to choose the best broadband provider available to you.

  • Broadband
    Max download speed76Mb
    Max upload speed19Mb
    Monthly usageUnlimited
    Home Phone
    Daytime calls9.50ppm
    Evening calls9.50ppm
    Weekend calls9.50ppm
    Pricing & Contract
    Set-up cost£59.95
    Contract length18 months
    First year cost £587.83

    £43.99
    per month
    includes line rental

    0800 840 5394 0203 151 2395
  • Broadband
    Max download speed76Mb
    Max upload speed19Mb
    Monthly usageUnlimited
    Home Phone
    Daytime calls12.50ppm
    Evening calls12.50ppm
    Weekend calls12.50ppm
    Pricing & Contract
    Set-up cost£25
    Contract length12 months
    First year cost £384.88

    £29.99
    per month
    includes line rental

Console gaming on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U

To get the best broadband for gaming (especially online first person shooters such as Call Of Duty, Battlefield, Halo and so on) you should consider download speed, upload speed, latency, jitter and packet loss. Here's how the main providers stack up.

Peak time latency 15ms 15ms 15ms 17ms 17ms 33ms
Peak time packet loss 0.11% 0.14% 0.16% 0.18% 0.55% 0.33%
Sky
Peak time latency
15ms
Peak time packet loss
0.11%
Virgin Media
Peak time latency
15ms
Peak time packet loss
0.14%
Plusnet
Peak time latency
15ms
Peak time packet loss
0.16%
BT
Peak time latency
17ms
Peak time packet loss
0.18%
EE
Peak time latency
17ms
Peak time packet loss
0.55%
TalkTalk
Peak time latency
33ms
Peak time packet loss
0.33%

We'll talk about those in detail further down, but for now, the offerings that tick all of these boxes have been put into our comparison tool below. If you can get any of these, do – it's that simple.

How much speed do I need for online multiplayer gaming?

Upload speed

If you really want to get the most out of online games, your upload speed should be more of a pressing concern than your download speed. Upload speed is a measurement of how much information is passed from your console to the internet, and is measured in Mb (megabits - per second) – the higher the number, the faster the information is delivered.

A good upload speed will make onscreen action instantaneous. This is crucial to know because the vast majority of broadband packages in the UK sell themselves on their download speeds, with upload speeds that are, frankly, awful.

Download speed

Download speed indicates how much data is sent from the internet to your console, and is also measured in Mps. A high download speed will mean you can download new games, patches and downloadable content (DLC) quickly, but will not affect the game itself – unless the speed of your broadband is truly bad (less than 1Mb per second).

Latency, packet loss and jitter are major considerations

Latency

Latency, or lag as it's also known, is the amount of time it takes information to travel from your console to the internet and back to your console again.

Measured in milliseconds, the lower the measurement the better. Exceptionally low latency will mean your actions in your game feel more immediate and responsive – especially useful in first-person shooter games.

The minimum standard for latency is 100ms and although the majority of providers claim to fall within this boundary, it will really depend on distance. Your lag is dependent on how much wire is between you, the exchange, and all the way to the game server and back.

Location is everything, and those who experience lag – and complain that the game has been poorly programmed – often don't realise that what they are asking of the game's makers is impossible. Lag is influenced by your distance from the server, and the physical law of how fast light can travel. No clever programming can change that.

Peak time latency 15ms 15ms 15ms 17ms 17ms 33ms
Peak time latency
Sky
15ms
Virgin Media
15ms
Plusnet
15ms
BT
17ms
EE
17ms
TalkTalk
33ms

Packet loss

Packet loss is more of a problem than latency. This is when chunks of information (called data packets) don’t make it to their destination. Such loss of gameplay information could lead to your game freezing, stuttering, or for time to seemingly skip forward. Packet loss is measured in per cent, and the lower the figure, the less information you’re losing.

Peak time packet loss 0.11% 0.14% 0.16% 0.18% 0.55% 0.33%
Peak time packet loss
Sky
0.11%
Virgin Media
0.14%
Plusnet
0.16%
BT
0.18%
EE
0.55%
TalkTalk
0.33%

Jitter

Another point to consider when finding the ideal broadband for gaming is your jitter rate. Jitter measures the stability of your broadband connection. The lower the jitter rate, the more gamer-friendly your connection is.

Many providers now include jitter buffering with their broadband connections, providing around 20 milliseconds of buffering so your game can carry on, albeit at a cost to the consistency of your latency.

Reliable broadband keeps you in the game

While low latency and packet loss are beneficial for responsive online gameplay, they count for nothing when you’re forced offline because you’ve lost your internet connection.

A dropped connection spells ruin for even the most epic of winning streaks and that’s why a reliable broadband connection can make all the difference in online gaming.

Dropped connections

When searching for a reliable broadband provider, you want one that demonstrates a limited number of daily disruptions – i.e. one that disconnects the least day-to-day – and that in the event of a disruption is is able to resolve the problem quickly.

Providers don’t tend to advertise this sort of information, but independent research from Ofcom shows both Sky Broadband and Sky Fibre to be the least likely to disconnect day-to-day.

Sky Fibre (38Mb) performed the best, with just three disconnections forecast over a 30-day period, and when the connection did drop it was typically re-established automatically in less than two minutes.

Other providers including BT, EE, Plusnet and Virgin Media also fared well, though faster connections proved more likely to disconnect on a daily basis.

Specifics for PlayStation 4

PS4 Share function

The PS4 has a feature that allows your PSN friends to play online with you, even if they don’t own the game you’re both playing. This is called Share Play and requires more of your broadband connection’s upload speed than regular online gaming, as the host’s console is sending more information over the internet.

There are debates over what the minimum required upload speed for hosting a Share Play game online is; 2Mb is alleged to be just about adequate, but the faster your upload speed, the better experience you and the remote player will have.

PlayStation TV

The PlayStation TV is a small box which allows you to play all your favourite PS4 games on a second screen. It also allows you to download PS Vita games and classic PS one games directly to your TV. The PlayStation TV connects to your wireless network to access both the internet and your PS4.

To get the best experience, use a wired connection, but if this is not possible, make sure your console is as close to your wi-fi router as you can get it, and limit the number of devices that connect to your home’s wi-fi network when in use.

PlayStation Now

PlayStation Now allows you to stream games from the internet to your PS3, PS4, PS Vita, PS TV or a compatible Sony TV for a subscription. Because it involves streaming games directly, you’ll need a stable download speed of over 5Mbps, and a package that has the lowest ping rate possible.

Compare fast broadband deals

Specifics for Xbox One

Xbox One as a DVR

The Xbox one can run all your viewing needs, such as streaming movies, downloading TV series and accessing services like Netflix and Now TV. You can even plug in your set top box and watch TV through it.

Using your console this way will put more of a strain on your download connection, especially as the Xbox One’s ‘Snap’ function allows you to split your screen and have two processes running at once.

Xbox One for Skype

The Xbox One allows you to video call your friends over Skype, which is integrated with the console. Skype video calls can be snapped to the side of the screen, allowing you to call people and play games at the same time.

Skype, coupled with online gaming, will put extra demands on your upload speed, which is recommended to be 1.5Mb if you want to call in high definition.

The Xbox One can remain online

The Xbox One can remain connected to the internet at all times, even when it’s not being used, which allows it to download content and updates in the background. This is useful, but it can slow down other activities on other devices running at the same time, such as movie-streaming. If it becomes a problem, you can change the settings.

Microsoft has said that a user will need at least a 1.5Mb connection speed to get the best experience out of their consoles, but that's really an absolute minimum, especially if you want to download games and additional content. We would advise a connection of at least 17Mb if you want to use the console to its full capacity – or faster if you can get it.

Compare fast broadband deals

PlayStation 4 and Xbox One online gaming FAQ

What is traffic management?

One stumbling block for console gamers is many providers rate online gaming as a low priority activity, citing gaming as a trigger for traffic management (where your broadband speed is temporarily capped – not surprising with PS4 and Xbox One game downloads clocking in at up to 60GB).

As such, you should choose a broadband package that doesn’t have a traffic management policy or, if that’s unavoidable, make sure you time your downloads at off-peak hours, usually at night.

Is an Ethernet cable better than wi-fi?

If you can, connect your PS4 or Xbox One to your router with an Ethernet cable. Although not always possible, a physical connection is the quickest and most reliable way of getting your console to connect to the internet. Failing that, you can wirelessly connect to the internet, but this might provide you with a less stable connection.

Will a wireless extender improve my broadband connection?

If you want the best internet connection, but your console is too far away from your router to run an Ethernet cable, then a wireless extender, such as a Powerline adapter, could be a solution. This plugs into a power socket and uses the in-wall electrical cabling already in your house as an Ethernet connection, giving you a smoother connection.

Can I play online games with mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband uses phone signals to connect your console to the internet. This can be done with a mobile dongle or MiFi device, which is like a router that uses a mobile signal to deliver a broadband connection wirelessly to more than one device at a time.

The same criteria apply when finding a mobile broadband deal as a standard broadband deal. Pay particular attention to the download allowance, which is usually smaller than on a standard broadband connection. Downloads from the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live can measure over 55GB – before you’ve even sent or received data during online play.

What speed will I need to broadcast my gameplay?

Both the Xbox One and PS4 let you livestream games over websites like Twitch and Ustream (the latter only being available for the PS4), allowing others to watch what you’re doing as it happens. Like the PS4's Share function, using Twitch requires a minimum upload speed from your broadband to make sure your video plays smoothly.

The required speed for uploading to Twitch is about 1Mbps, but if you want a more reliable connection, or want to stream in HD, around 3-4Mb should be sufficient.

Best broadband provider for PC and Mac gaming

To get the best experience for gaming on Mac or PC, you should look at packages with high download rates, steady upload connections, no traffic management and, if you want to host your own game, options for static IPs. Here is a selection.

  • Broadband
    Max download speed38Mb
    Max upload speed9.5Mb
    Monthly usageUnlimited
    Home Phone
    Daytime calls9.50ppm
    Evening calls9.50ppm
    Weekend calls9.50ppm
    Pricing & Contract
    Set-up cost£59.95
    Contract length18 months
    First year cost £527.83

    £38.99
    per month
    includes line rental

    0800 840 5394 0203 151 2395
  • Broadband
    Max download speed100Mb
    Max upload speed6Mb
    Monthly usageUnlimited
    Home Phone
    Daytime calls9.94ppm
    Evening calls9.94ppm
    Weekend callsInclusive
    Pricing & Contract
    Set-up cost£20
    Contract length12 months
    First year cost £428

    £34
    per month
    includes line rental

    0808 168 4947 0808 168 4947
  • Broadband
    Max download speed38Mb
    Max upload speed9.5Mb
    Monthly usageUnlimited
    Home Phone
    Daytime calls12.50ppm
    Evening calls12.50ppm
    Weekend calls12.50ppm
    Pricing & Contract
    Set-up cost£25
    Contract length12 months
    First year cost £324.88

    £24.99
    per month
    includes line rental

What broadband speed do I need for PC and Mac gaming?

Download speed is important for PC and Mac gaming

As the majority of games are downloaded from online game stores, such as Steam or OnLive, a fast download speed is essential. Download speed is measured in Mb (megabits - per second) and most standard broadband connections are up to 17Mb. Fibre optic packages can reach up to 300Mb.

The faster your broadband speed, the sooner your game downloads (to put it into perspective, a 10Mb connection will take around four hours to download a game that is 20GB).

A stable upload speed will give you the best connection

A more pressing concern for gamers that use PCs or Macs is how stable your upload connection is. Upload speeds measure how much information is passed from your computer to the internet over a specific period of time. Upload speeds are usually lower than download speeds, and are not as well advertised.

The majority of standard broadband packages come with a 1Mbps upload speed, which is not particularly fast, but the stability of the connection will have more of a determining factor on your game than your upload speed. Fibre optic packages, on the other hand, come with much faster upload speeds, and will give you a smoother connection.

Latency, packet loss and jitter will affect your game

Lower latency makes for smoother gaming

Latency is a measurement of the amount of time it takes for information to travel from your computer to the internet, or the host of the game you’re playing, and back again. If you have high latency, there will be a delay between you pressing the keys, and the corresponding action happening on-screen.

The lower your latency the shorter the delay and the more instantaneous your actions appear. Latency is measured in microseconds (ms), and the minimum standard for standard broadband is 100ms.

Peak time latency 15ms 15ms 15ms 17ms 17ms 33ms
Peak time latency
Sky
15ms
Virgin Media
15ms
Plusnet
15ms
BT
17ms
EE
17ms
TalkTalk
33ms

Packet loss can ruin your online experience

Packet loss is when information (called packets of data) gets lost on its journey from your computer to the internet. High levels of packet loss can result in actions you input not happening on-screen, making the game skip and jump. Packet loss is measured in percentage and, the lower the amount, the better quality your game will appear.

Peak time packet loss 0.11% 0.14% 0.16% 0.18% 0.55% 0.33%
Peak time packet loss
Sky
0.11%
Virgin Media
0.14%
Plusnet
0.16%
BT
0.18%
EE
0.55%
TalkTalk
0.33%

Jitter is a term used to describe any instability on your upload connection

If you receive a large amount of jitter you will notice your connection skip and jolt, similarly to packet loss, and could render the game unplayable. Some game servers measure player’s jitter rate on screen and will drop those with too much jitter from the game, which is enough to ruin anyone’s day when your team’s about to win.

PC and Mac gaming broadband FAQ

Do different games have different latency requirements?

Having a low latency level is always preferable when gaming online, but the type of games you play dictate the necessity for how much latency you can tolerate.

High-speed, twitch reflex first person shooters, such as Counter Strike, Team Fortress or Call of Duty, require an instantaneous connection and a tiny amount of latency. Games with a slower pace, such as online RPGs, puzzle games or strategy games, will not require as low a level of latency.

Do I need a static IP?

If you were planning on hosting your own game servers, having a static IP address is absolutely vital if you want people to be able to find you. Most providers offer static IPs, although you may have to contact your own provider to get yours set up. Of the major providers it’s only Virgin Media which does not have a static IP option.

Having a static IP may also make your connection more stable, and reduce packet loss improving your overall experience, but it is not essential.

Can I broadcast my games over the internet?

You can use sites such as Twitch and Ustream to broadcast your gameplay to other people. The quality of your broadcast will determine which broadband speed you’ll need to livestream, but the general rule of thumb is that 1Mbps upload speed should be enough for standard definition, and 3-4Mbps upload speed for high definition.

Steam users can take advantage of the site’s own service, Steam Broadcasting, which allows Steam customers to watch each others’ games, and requires a similar upload speed to other livecasting services.

What is a ping rate?

Ping is a tool used to measure the latency of those online. It works like a sonar, firing off a packet of information and measuring how long it take to travel to the target’s computer and back. It also measures packet loss, so you know how much data is being lost along the way.

A high ping rate means data is taking a long time to make its round trip and some online games can drop you from their servers if it reaches a certain point, so making sure you have a small ping rate is essential.

How can I avoid traffic management?

Traffic management is when internet providers impose speed limitations to help ease congestion during peak times. Most providers that use it only do so on specific services, so while streaming films or TV will be unaffected, peer-to-peer file sharing or downloading large files – practices common with gaming on PC and Mac – may be slowed down.

Your best option is to find out which providers use traffic management, and how they prioritise their network usage.

The best broadband deal for mobile and portable gaming

Gaming on the go using either mobile phones and tablets or portable consoles, such as the Sony PlayStation Vita or the Nintendo 3DS, have become more popular thanks to the ability to stay connected while you’re out and about.

While speed is still a consideration for portable and mobile gaming, download and upload speed is not as important, as mobile games are usually simpler than their console counterparts. What is more important, is how you connect, how much data you have in your allowance and the stability of your connection.

What broadband speed do I need for tablet, smartphone or handheld console gaming?

Upload speed and stability are important for all types of gamer

Having a smooth and fast upload speed is important for gamers, as playing online depends more on how quickly you can send information to the internet as opposed to receive it. The average mobile broadband upload speed is 1.6Mb for 3G and 12.4Mb for 4G.

This should be plenty for most online games, but it is the stability of the connection, its latency and packet loss, which has a greater affect on your online experience. Mobile broadband does suffer with high and unstable latency, and disconnections are more common than with standard broadband.

Download speed is less of a consideration

The average download speed available from mobile broadband ranges from 6.1Mb for 3G and 15.1Mb for 4G. Download speed is only really a consideration if you download games, updates and other content to your device. A more important consideration than both upload and download speed is usage, which is commonly capped on mobile broadband contracts.

Handheld gaming has different broadband needs to home console or computer gaming

Most mobile contracts will come with a data allowance

Getting the best out of your mobile and portable games depends on where you play and how much you download. If you play on your mobile phone or a tablet, you’ll already have a data allowance as part of your SIM contract for downloading games and getting online. Below are four of the best mobile SIM providers for gaming.

Data 3G coverage 4G coverage 3G latency (ms) 4G latency (ms)
16GB
up to
98% 99% 54.8 48.4 Buy
12GB
up to
98% 97% 81.5 55.2 Buy
20GB
up to
96% 95% 73.3 59.5 Buy
Three Unlimited 97% 91% 47.6 50.9 Buy
EE
Data
Up to 16GB
3G coverage
98%
4G coverage
99%
3G latency (ms)
54.8
4G latency (ms)
48.4
O2
Data
Up to 12GB
3G coverage
98%
4G coverage
97%
3G latency (ms)
81.5
4G latency (ms)
55.2
Vodafone
Data
Up to 20GB
3G coverage
96%
4G coverage
95%
3G latency (ms)
73.3
4G latency (ms)
59.5
Three
Data
Unlimited
3G coverage
97%
4G coverage
91%
3G latency (ms)
47.6
4G latency (ms)
50.9

A mobile broadband package will give you more data

If you play portable games on the PlayStation Vita or the Nintendo 3DS, or even a tablet or laptop, while you’re out and about, a mobile broadband package, complete with a personal hotspot router, can get all your devices online at once, rather than buying individual data SIMs for all your devices. Below are four of the best mobile broadband providers for gaming.

Data 3G coverage 4G coverage 3G latency (ms) 4G latency (ms)
50GB
up to
98% 99% 54.8 48.4 Buy
10GB
up to
98% 97% 81.5 55.2 Buy
20GB
up to
96% 95% 73.3 59.5 Buy
Three 20GB
up to
97% 91% 47.6 50.9 Buy
EE
Data
Up to 50GB
3G coverage
98%
4G coverage
99%
3G latency (ms)
54.8
4G latency (ms)
48.4
O2
Data
Up to 10GB
3G coverage
98%
4G coverage
97%
3G latency (ms)
81.5
4G latency (ms)
55.2
Vodafone
Data
Up to 20GB
3G coverage
96%
4G coverage
95%
3G latency (ms)
73.3
4G latency (ms)
59.5
Three
Data
Up to 20GB
3G coverage
97%
4G coverage
91%
3G latency (ms)
53.3
4G latency (ms)
50.9

Network coverage, data limits and upload stability are important considerations

Make sure you understand the limitations of mobile broadband

Understanding how much data you need is key to getting the right mobile broadband package. Just getting online and playing games against other people will not take a huge bite out of your data allowance, but downloading games, software patches and new content will.

If you want to get the best value out of a mobile broadband contract, any large downloads should be done when you can connect your portable console to an unlimited home broadband package.

Coverage and speed is limited to certain areas

Mobile broadband is delivered over the cellular network, so your broadband coverage is limited to the areas which your chosen provider covers. Coverage should be one of your main concerns when you pick your mobile broadband package.

The speed of your connection is also dictated by which provider you choose, with some offering faster 4G packages in certain locations. You can find out what coverage is like by using the coverage trackers on your provider’s website.

Mobile broadband latency is generally worse than cabled broadband

Latency is the amount of time it takes to send information to the internet from your device, so the lower the figure the smoother your game will be when you’re playing online. Generally, mobile and portable gaming does not need as low latency as console or PC gaming, as the games played over them do not require the same level of reactions speed.

4G packages have better latency than 3G and, according to the most recent Ofcom research into 4G mobile broadband, has lower packet loss too.

Mobile and portable gaming FAQ

Do I need a MiFi or personal hotspot device?

If you don’t fancy getting a MiFi device, some portable consoles, such as the PlayStation Vita have a cellular option, as well as wi-fi-only models (The Nintendo 3DS is wi-fi-only).

These are generally more expensive than than the wi-fi-only versions, and requires a data-only SIM from a mobile provider to stay connected. As you’re only using one device, your data will last longer than with a MiFi router with multiple devices connecting to it, so it’s worth taking that into consideration.

How can I get my PlayStation Vita online?

The PlayStation Vita can connect to a PS4 and act as a second screen, meaning you can play your PS4 games on the Vita without hogging the TV. It can also connect to the PS4 when you’re out of the house. The PS Vita will determine the best connection for you and base its decision on whether the PS4 or the wireless router is closer.

If you want to connect the the PS4 while you’re out of the house, you’ll need both the Vita and the PS4 connected to the internet at the same time, so you’ll need both home broadband for the PS4 and a way to connect your Vita to the internet when you’re out and about.

How can I get my Nintendo 3DS online?

Unlike the PlayStation Vita, the Nintendo 3DS does not have a cellular option, so if you want to get online with it, you need to connect it with a wireless router or, if you have one, to your MiFi device. Another option, although not quite as reliable, is connecting to a public wi-fi network which can be found an all manner of bars, restaurants and shops.

What is a public wi-fi network?

If you have a portable console, or if you play games on your phone or tablet, another important aspect you may want to keep your eyes open for is access to public wi-fi. Public wi-fi refers to a network of wi-fi hotspots in public places (such as bars, cafes and shops) that you can connect wi-fi enabled devices to, including portable consoles, mobiles and tablets.

Some providers offer access to their public wi-fi networks free of charge once you buy a broadband package with it. If you feel this is something you would use, it’s worth finding out which provider offers the best public wi-fi network for your area.

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