Gaming broadband: give yourself the edge
Whether you prefer cutting down enemies in Far Cry 3, questing the night away on World of Warcraft, designing your new pad in The Sims Online or beating your lap times on Need For Speed: Most Wanted, you need to be sure you have a gaming broadband connection that can cope.
When you're looking for gaming home broadband, there are several things you need to think about: are you a hardcore player who needs a gamer specific package? If not, do the games you play need a consistent fast connection, a good ping rate, or lots of GB per month (bandwidth) to download files? Don't worry - all will be explained. There is also a description of some of the gaming terminology you'll come across at the bottom of this guide (ping, latency, etc).
So what is the best broadband for gaming?
Right now, BE Broadband and Plusnet offer what many think is the best gaming broadband; UK wise anyway. They offer specific broadband for gamers: cheap or specific deals deliberately targeted at broadband gamers. If you haven't heard of these companies, don't worry. While they may not be household names, BE is part of the Telefonica group that is also home to O2 Broadband in the UK, while Plusnet is owned by BT Broadband. Both are run as separate companies though, with their own deals, customer service, etc.
BE's 'Unlimited' deal offers unlimited downloads, ADSL2+ download and upload speeds, low pings, no traffic shaping, optional static IP and a control panel so advanced gamers can change the settings of their broadband internet connection.
The Plusnet 'Pro' add-on package claims to offer: all traffic priorities at all times, low latency and pings (see below), reliable and stable connection, access to gaming servers, a static IP address, the option to turn interleaving on and off and a 60GB monthly download allowance, plus free usage from midnight to 8am outside of your usage allowance.
It should also be noted that both Plusnet and BE offer short-term contracts (one month for PlusNet and three months for BE), which means you can try them out for size. Also, they're ideal for short-term accommodation situations, such as student shared houses. Not that we're suggesting students spend all day using their broadband for gaming, of course!
However, while not offering specific gaming deals, superfast fibre broadband is also great for gaming and deals are now available from household names such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk. While they don’t offer those extra little gaming bells and whistles, they do offer blistering speeds.
However, choosing the best gaming broadband isn't always going to be your choice. Unfortunately, not all telephone exchanges will have the same equipment inside, especially in more rural areas. What this means is that while you may see adverts advertising optimistic 'up to' speeds your actual connection will most likely be slower. If you're a long way from your nearest telephone exchange, that 8Mb line may only realise 2Mb, or even less.
Be sure to check the kind of line speed you will get before you purchase a deal – all home broadband ISPs should offer this service as standard now. Some, including BE, will only offer you a contract if they can guarantee a good speed, so don't get your heart set on a specific ISP before you know if they will service your area (our postcode checker above should let you know).
We should also mention Virgin broadband gaming here. Cable giant Virgin Media offers superfast broadband to around 60 per cent of the UK population at speeds of 100Mb, so even if you’re in a ADSL area you may still be able to get some great gaming speeds.
Do I need gaming broadband?
The simple answer is probably no. However, if you're serious about broadband gaming, you will certainly want to make sure you give yourself the best chance out there by using our comparison tables, while also getting the cheapest package. You can also read and contrast customer reviews to compare experiences and see if the prices are worth it. Just click on 'reviews' under the ISP's name in the table above to check out what other people think, but remember these tend to be a little on the negative side overall – a lot of people just want a moan when something goes wrong!
Broadband gaming speed: Simple connection speed can be really important, as it can give you the edge in FPS games such as Perfect Dark or Bioshock, so it is seriously worth considering a connection above 8Mb if you can afford it. If you have a slower connection, just try not to run other programs while you're playing games, as this can really slow things down. And don't forget other machines in the house that may be connected to the internet too.
While Virgin Media doesn't specifically offer gaming broadband, it has the fastest broadband out there right now - if you're in a Virgin Media covered area, and can afford a 50Mb connection (or even a whopping 100Mb option in some areas), it's always going to be a great choice. Also, the 50Mb option also offers some fantastic upload speeds, as well as downloads, which can be crucial when gaming too.
Download allowance: Your monthly allowance should be less of an issue: playing World of Warcraft, for example, has been cited as using around 0.4KB/s, so even if you played 24/7 you would never reach the standard GB limits that are now common (10-40GB) - in reality, game playing might use up about 20-50MB of your allowance each day.
However, be careful about patches as these can be massive and eat up your allowance very quickly. Also, if you're going to download a lot of games with the likes of Steam, rather than buy shop copies, this will also take up big chunks of your monthly download allowance. It's here that providers offering unlimited downloads come in useful.
- Traffic shaping: It is worth watching the Broadband Genie news page for stories about ISPs that use 'traffic shaping' - this is where you can have your broadband slowed down artificially by your provider, sometimes because it is during peak hours or sometimes because they think you are using up too much bandwidth. Gamers should probably try to avoid traffic shaping ISPs where possible.
Mobile broadband gaming
Finally, especially as 4G is now starting to rollout in the UK, we should give a mention to mobile broadband gaming. Unfortunately, historically mobile broadband tends to have had slow and intermittent coverage and reception. But as both speeds and mast coverage improves it is starting to become a viable gaming option for some.
But even if you can’t get a good enough connection to power your home PC or console through mobile broadband, gaming is now all over smartphones and tablets – both on and offline. And with these more basics games having a much lower data transfer requirement, online play even on a bad connection is often viable. While some of these games might not look so great, they can still be murderously addictive.