How to get the best broadband for online gaming

By Matt Clough | | 3150 |

Online gaming has never been bigger. Record numbers of players are logging on the games like Fortnite, Call of Duty and FIFA, with many exclusively playing online. What’s more, while online used to be an extension of a game, it’s now the core feature of many; without an online connection, you simply can’t play them, at least not to anywhere near their full potential. Simply put, it’s never been more critical to have a good internet connection if you’re a dedicated gamer, and it’s only going to become more important with the PS5 and Xbox Series X on the horizon.

There are two core factors to bear in mind when looking for gaming-friendly WiFi; speed, and reliability. Speed speaks for itself; if you’ve got a connection that would struggle to load Ask Jeeves, it’s very unlikely that your connection will be quick enough to provide you a smooth, consistent online performance for gaming. Reliability, on the other hand, is often overlooked. Getting the most all-singing, all-dancing broadband package is all well and good, but if you go with an ISP with a reputation for struggling in your local area, you may find yourself with a connection that drops out, booting you from games and causing you no end of headaches.

In this guide, we’ll aim to answer the big questions about gaming broadband, help you figure out which ISP is the right one for you, and get you well on your way to the ultimate online gaming set up. Either scroll down to start reading, or use the following menu to hop to the section you’re most interested in.

Choosing your broadband provider

Check your local coverage

As time goes on, the areas of the UK that are not reached by the major broadband providers are becoming smaller and smaller. However, it’s still worth double checking your coverage options before you have your heart set on a particular package, in case it’s not available in your area!

Almost all of the major providers of broadband now offer a quick and easy way of checking your area for eligibility; you can find the tools for each at the following links:

Check your fibre eligibility

If you’ve followed our guide above and decided you’re happy to spend a bit more in order to get a fibre connection and with it a better, more reliable online gaming experience, you can use the following links to check whether your local area is eligible for fibre internet or has already had it installed:

TalkTalk gaming broadband offers

TalkTalk are one of the UK’s most respected broadband providers, winners of uSwitch’s ‘Most Popular Broadband Provider’ for 2020. Since 2003, they’ve championed user-friendly broadband, and have recently launched a Fairer Broadband Charter, which aims to keep broadband packages transparent. As part of this, they promise to never raise prices mid-contract and a 30 day trial on their fibre packages. They offer a great range of broadband options, including fibre. Here’s some of the important links to help you get started.

Currently, TalkTalk’s fibre options begin from just £23.50 a month, for 18 months with a fixed price until 2020 and no usage limit.

Faster Fibre

38Mb/s £23.50 per month, view

Superfast Fibre

67Mb/s £67 per month, view

Faster 150 Fibre

145Mb/s £145 per month, view

Virgin gaming broadband offers

Virgin boast one of the fastest offerings in the UK, with some of their ultrafast fibre packages capable of hitting speeds up to 350Mbps, easily enough for a buttery smooth connection when playing online and flying through big downloads in a matter of minutes. Virgin have even begun to offer gigabit broadband, which is the next step up from fibre and is capable of hitting download speeds greater than 1Gbps – for context, that would get a game the size of Red Dead Redemption 2 downloaded in under 5 minutes, compared to hours on a standard ADSL internet connection.

They also offer a solid range of fibre and non-fibre packages, and of course have their own TV service to throw into packages for an even better deal if you’re looking for something to keep you entertained in your gaming downtime!

M100

108Mb/s £28 per month, view

M200

213Mb/s £33 per month, view

M350

362mb/s £38 per month, view

BT gaming broadband offers

BT are one of the UK’s most respected and long-running telecoms companies, and their reputation for broadband is equally strong. As with other major providers, BT offers some special services that will be of particular interest to gamers.

Most notably, they now offer a service called Complete Wi-Fi. For many, having a wired connection to their console isn’t an option; instead, their console might be in another room or on another floor of their home. When this happens, it can wreak havoc with the reliability and speed of a connection, no matter how fast it is when sat by the router. BT’s Complete Wi-Fi comes with a guarantee for all Superfast and Ultrafast Fibre customers that every room in their home will get a strong signal, thanks to signal boosting discs.

Fibre Essential

36Mb/s £27.99 per month, view

Fibre 1

50Mb/s £27.99 per month, view

Fibre 2

67Mb/s £34.99 per month, view

NOW TV gaming broadband offers

NOW TV are best known for the super handy entertainment passes, that give you access to services such as Sky Sports without the need for signing up to lengthy contracts. However, they also offer a wide range of internet options. Just like their TV passes, their broadband is similarly flexible, enabling you to switch in and out without the need for a contract. They also keep things simple when it comes to choosing your package, with three basic options – ADSL, fibre, and super fast fibre.

Fab Fibre

36Mb/s £22.99 per month, view

Super Fibre

66Mb/s £26.99 per month, view


John Lewis gaming broadband offers

John Lewis have been one of the UK’s most trusted names in retail for decades, so it’s fantastic news that they’ve moved into the broadband space too.

Fibre

23Mbs £15 per month, view

Fibre Extra

23Mbs £15 per month, view

PlusNet gaming broadband offers

PlusNet offer a range of fibre packages at some of the most competitive prices around, with strong coverage across the country too!

Unlimited Fibre

36Mb/s £22.99 per month, view

Unlimited Fibre Extra

66Mb/s £26.99 per month, view

Superfast

23Mb/s £15 per month, view

EE gaming broadband offers

Known for their mobile network, it was a natural move for EE to move into broadband. They offer a range of fibre options, include their Fibre Max 1 and 2 options, which deliver some of the fastest average speeds below Gigabit connections that we’ve seen thus far.

Fibre

36Mb/s £24 per month, view

Fibre Plus

67Mb/s £27 per month, view

Fibre Max 1

145Mb/s £36 per month, view

Fibre Max 2

300Mb/s £43 per month, view

FAQ

What is the minimum speed for internet gaming?

When it comes to online gaming, having a fast broadband speed sounds like it’s essential, but it’s not actually the most important factor to consider. You can quite happily game online with broadband speeds between 7Mbps and 10Mbps – and these are speeds that most homes in the UK can now get, even with ADSL connections. But as we said above what’s absolutely crucial is a reliable broadband connection.

These speeds are ideal for if you’re playing a game you have installed locally on your console, either via a disc or a download. This will be the case for most gamers; however, there are a growing number of services that offer a Netflix/ Spotify equivalent to gaming. In these examples (which include Google Stadia and Microsoft’s Project xCloud), games are hosted on remote servers, with players effectively streaming the game, as you would a song on Spotify or film on Netflix. As you can imagine, doing this is a lot more intensive – on top of having to stream the video to the player, the service has to do so at a speed where the player is able to take in what’s being shown to them, react with a button press, and have this input beamed back to the server as seamlessly as possible.

These sort of services demand a much faster internet connection to function optimally. For their Stadia service, Google recommends at least a 10Mbps to achieve the bare minimum performance, while aiming for a full 4K experience requires a speed of at least 35 Mbps. As the services mature and improve, it’s possible that these requirements will drop slightly – although by the time they’ve done so, it’s more likely that the general standard of internet speeds across the UK will have improved sufficiently to meet the current bare minimum specs.

Finally, a quick point on game downloads. Gaming is increasingly becoming software focused, rather than hardware. Nowadays, even buying a physical disc isn’t likely to spare you from needing an internet connection; many major games launch with a day 1 patch, containing last minute tweaks the developers made after the physical copies of the game had shipped. There’s nothing worse than waiting for months for a game, only to find yourself waiting hours for it to download. Game sizes are increasing all the time, with many AAA titles starting from as much as 70GB and some exceeding 100GB. While these may only be a one-off, it’s still worth bearing in mind that if you’re planning on downloading most of your games, even if you don’t intend to play online, it’s still a big help to have a strong connection.

How much data does online gaming use?

Internet data caps are slowly becoming a thing of the past in the UK (although it’s always worth triple checking when signing up to a new provider if the offer seems too good to be true!), but something people need to be mindful of is the amount of data that online gaming uses. Even if you’re uncapped and your speed meets the requirements, if your internet package is on the slower side, you may still find that online gaming puts the brakes on others in your household from streaming TV or music or browsing.

Online gaming can use a pretty varied amount of data depending on what came you’re playing. It’s far from a surefire rule, but generally, the more intrinsically complicated the game and the inputs you’re asking the game to process. A game with very basic inputs and that lacks the real need for instantaneous communication, like online card game Hearthstone, may use as little as 3MB an hour. Something like an FPS such as Overwatch, which needs to account for over 100 inputs a minute and has to offer next to zero latency, can use something like 135MB an hour. Even that isn’t a huge amount, but as we’ve mentioned, if you do find yourself on a capped broadband limit, you may find yourself using it up relatively quickly by gaming. The same goes for downloading games. A single AAA game could comfortably take you over the monthly limit 

Once again, it’s worth also touching on the internet usage of the streaming services use, in part because services such as Google Stadia have promoted themselves as enabling you to play on the fly, using phones as well as TVs and laptops. Many more people are still data capped on their mobile plan, so it’s very important to note that Google state that running Stadia at 4k for an hour will consume a whopping 15.75GB of data, while even minimum specs will still take up around 4.5GB an hour.

What is fibre internet and do I need it for gaming?

Fibre broadband refers to a relatively new type of internet connection, which utilises fibre optic cables to connect you. The upshot of this is that you will typically get faster broadband and, crucially, a more reliable connection. However, fibre does come with two chief drawbacks. Firstly, it’s more expensive than a standard ADSL connection. Secondly, it requires a whole new infrastructure. This means that for some, particularly those in rural areas, the option to get fibre internet simply won’t exist. Even if you are eligible, installing the fibre may involve some time consuming work to get installed.

If you don’t mind paying extra and you’re able to actually get fibre broadband installed, the speed and reliability it offers is almost always superior to a standard connection, making it a great choice for gaming. However, it’s still possible to have a perfectly acceptable online gaming set-up without using a fibre connection.

Which console requires the best internet to play online?

As we said in our section about how much data is used by online gaming, the type of game you’re playing can play a role in the speed of internet you need. The type of game is, at least for the current generation of home consoles – the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch – the main thing, rather than the specific console.

However, if you are concerned about your internet speed, the Switch arguably edges out the Xbox and PS4, as it has more exclusive Nintendo games, many of which don’t rely on online as much as Xbox and PS4 do.

I don’t care about playing against other people online – do I still need to worry about broadband?

As we’ve written above, gaming is an increasingly digital pastime; more and more people are now buying games digitally rather than on physical discs and cartridges. What’s more, as games are becoming more complex, so their file sizes are expanding rapidly; it’s not uncommon for major games to now clock in at more than 70GBs. If you’re struggling to maintain a steady, quick connection, waiting for games to download can be a real pain.

Even if you’re someone who likes to physically own their games, many games nowadays come with large patches, some of more than 10GB, that are almost essential to download before you can boot a game up from a disc. Many developers are now tweaking games and squashing bugs right up until the last minute before release, meaning these fixes don’t make it in time to be put on the discs. Games are now being frequently expanded after release too via free or paid DLC, which is another thing to bear in mind. In short, without a decent internet connection, you’ll need a lot of patience to be able to enjoy many modern games even if you have no intention of playing online.

Is online gaming better with a wired broadband connection?

The simple answer is yes. Wifi strength and performance can be affected by all kinds of things in and outside the home, and the only real way to avoid this is by going old-school and connecting your games console via an Ethernet cable. This will guarantee you less interference, and therefore provide you with a more reliable gaming experience.

How can I improve my current online performance?

If you’re not able to upgrade currently, or if you have a decent connection but still seem to struggle to get the performance you’d like, here’s our top tips for improving performance.

1. Move the broadband router

Your games console will use a wifi connection to download games, so stick your router as close as possible to your PS4 or Xbox One. If that’s not possible, make sure your router isn’t close to a window, or stuck behind a wall. Try and make the path as clear as possible between your console and the router.

2. Buy a wireless booster

Cheap wifi extenders cost as little as £20. They won’t improve your download speeds, but if you have any dead spots in your home, they can improve the signal to these areas. Nintendo Switch gamers – who could game anywhere in the home – may benefit the most from a wifi booster.

3. Get a better router

If you’ve been with the same broadband provider for some time, chances are you’re still using the original router that was delivered to your door many years ago. Ditch it and buy yourself a shiny new one. Your internet provider may even send you its latest router free of charge, especially if you threaten to leave for another broadband provider.

4. Use a wired connection

As we mentioned above, using a wired connection is almost always preferable to a wireless one, as it’s one less thing to go wrong. If you can get an ethernet cable to reach your console, we recommend it!