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Gaming Broadband: what broadband speed do I need?

No matter what type of gamer you are, having access to fast, reliable broadband is essential.

Fortunately, Broadband Genie is here to help! Our first bit of advice is not to worry too much. Most fibre broadband deals have a speed of 35Mb+ and are absolutely fine for most gaming experiences.

But what else do you need to know? In this guide, we’ll explain what the jargon means, when higher speeds might help, and what to look for when choosing a broadband package for gaming.

Armed with a little knowledge, you can get a great value deal that will help you dominate the competition.

Key considerations when choosing gaming broadband

Most broadband deals are suitable for gaming, and you don’t necessarily need to focus too much on the technical details. The majority of gamers can just choose the fastest, unlimited broadband package at the best price.

These are a selection of some of the best gamer-suitable deals currently available:

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If you take gaming more seriously, or have specific needs, it’s worth spending some time considering the aspects of a broadband service which can affect your gameplay. Things such as speed, latency and jitter, packet loss, disconnections, contention ratio, and traffic management can all cause problems after all.

Don't get too stressed about the lingo. We'll explain what this all means below!

Broadband speed

While you don’t generally need fast broadband for playing games, we recommend fibre broadband for any gamers. You’re going to be doing a lot of downloading, and some titles can be huge!

The faster upload speed of fibre broadband is also useful, especially if you plan on hosting multiplayer matches, or streaming on Twitch. For the best upload rates, look out for full fibre deals offering symmetrical broadband speeds, where the upload rate is the same as the download speed.

You can find information on this in our guide to upload speeds.

Data limits

Almost all broadband deals now offer unlimited broadband, so it's very rare to have to worry about this. You may find you a fair usage policy in your broadband contract. For most home users and gamers this won't be a problem, although you could end up being affected by traffic management restrictions (see below).

Latency and jitter

Latency is the response time of a connection. You might see this more commonly referred to as 'ping time' or 'lag'. If you’re laggy, your ping time is high, and that’s something we want to avoid.

Jitter, on the other hand, is the variance in the latency, how much it changes from moment to moment. Like latency, an excessive amount of jitter can render an online game unplayable.

The good news is you don’t need to worry about this as much these days. Any fixed line service will be fast enough. To learn more, read our dedicated guide to broadband latency.

Packet loss

When data is sent over a network, some of it can be lost along the way. But error correction is built into the system, so this isn’t a problem you’ll face often.

However, high levels of packet loss can be an issue for real-time communications like gaming and can result in jittery and laggy gameplay, as you’d see with high latency.

The good news is that, just like latency, this doesn’t need to be a concern when choosing a provider.

Disconnections

Another worry that gamers have is that they’ll lose their internet connection mid-game. If this happened at the wrong time, you could lose a lot of progress.

If you have ADSL broadband, which is a type of broadband that runs solely through the old copper phone lines, or an outdated modem, this might be a little more likely. But as we recommend you get fibre broadband to game with, this is a lot less likely.

The faster speeds and better technology make disconnections less common these days.

Contention ratio

The contention ratio tells you how many other users in your area are sharing the same main broadband connection. For example, 50:1 means 50 homes are sharing one line.

When everyone is connected at once, the speed can drop. But this is another thing you don’t need to spend much too time worrying about. The contention ratio is now less of a problem than it once was, especially for fibre optic broadband, which has a much higher capacity. Few providers even bother to state a contention ratio nowadays, except for business broadband, where low contention or uncontended lines are a selling point.

Traffic management

Traffic management, or traffic shaping, is used to ensure network stability for most people by slowing down (or 'throttling') certain activities which use a lot of bandwidth.

Traffic management is typically used to target file-sharing services such as BitTorrent and Usenet, so gamers don’t generally have to be too concerned. But it’s still worth reading the small print to find out if you may be affected.

In any case, there are plenty of truly unlimited providers who don’t use traffic management. Read our guide to traffic management to learn more.

  • Which ISP has the best latency?

    There's little difference between providers when it comes to latency. 

    But latency is affected by a wider variety of factors than just your broadband. To get the best performance, use the in-game server browser tools to select the best server for you. It’s standard for game server browsers to display ping times or at least a traffic light system so that players can identify the quickest connections. If that’s not available, choose the closest server to your location to minimise latency.

What broadband speed do you need for gaming?

We recommend that all gamers have, at minimum, a fibre optic broadband service with an average download speed of around 35Mb. Fortunately, this is the approximate speed of most entry-level fibre broadband deals.

But if you can afford a faster connection, it’s worth upgrading.

When it comes to actually playing games online, very fast broadband isn’t essential (unless you’re cloud gaming, which we’ll talk more about later). General gaming doesn’t require a huge amount of bandwidth, so even a cheap ADSL broadband connection should be good enough.

But while faster connections don’t give you an advantage in an online match, it's still best to get the quickest unlimited broadband package you can find. It’s now impossible to be a gamer without frequent large downloads, so you need to bear that in mind.

Affordable and readily available internet access has changed the way we acquire and play games. It’s now easier for gamers to access new titles and developers to distribute their work using online marketplaces. Many titles are only available online.

Digital game stores such as Steam, PlayStation Network, and Xbox Live are now the standard way to purchase games. But game downloads can be massive, requiring hours to install even on rapid cable and fibre connections. That's a problem if your connection is slower than average, somewhat unstable, or has a data usage cap.

And there's often no alternative to downloading. You’d expect that going for a disc would save the time and bandwidth of a downloaded copy, except now it’s common for a physical purchase to involve a hefty download as well. You're also likely to be asked to download game updates at some point.

  • How long does it take to download games?

    This table shows how long it might take to download games on different types of broadband connections. But it’s important to note that this does assume you’re getting the full download speed of the connection; in practice, it’s likely to be slower, so the download time could be significantly longer.

    Game

    Standard Broadband (10Mb)

    Fibre Broadband (50Mb)

    Ultrafast Broadband (300Mb)

    Hades (9GB) 120 minutes 24 minutes 4 minutes
    Alan Wake (86GB) 1146 minutes 229 minutes 38 minutes
    Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth (145GB) 1933 minutes 386 minutes 64 minutes

The fact is that no matter how you like to buy games, you'll need to download some big files at some point. Whether for a patch, mod, DLC, or just to complete a boxed installation.

This is why we recommend that gamers opt for the fastest unlimited service they can afford.

The unlimited part is particularly important as one single game download can exceed the monthly usage allowance of a cheap capped broadband package.

What broadband speed do you need for cloud gaming?

Cloud gaming eliminates the need to download or purchase a game before playing by streaming them from a remote server.

One big advantage of cloud gaming services like Amazon Luna and NVIDIA Geforce Now is that you no longer need expensive hardware to play the latest games.

However, it does heavily rely on fast broadband.

If your broadband speed is too slow, you'll find that the visual quality and latency of cloud gaming won’t be as good as that you’d expect from your typical computer or console game.

If cloud gaming is something you’re interested in, fibre broadband is essential. Ideally, the fastest fibre you can afford, with full-fibre (FTTP) being the best option if you can get it in your area. Use our deals checker to see what's in your location.

And remember that if your connection is shared with other people, then you’ll want to be able to accommodate their traffic as well as the cloud gaming service.

  • What’s FTTP broadband?

    Full Fibre broadband is also known as ‘Fibre To The Premises’ and ‘Fibre To The Home’. This is often shortened to FTTP or FTTH.

    Instead of copper telephone wire making up the final part of the journey from that green cabinet on the street, fibre optic cables are installed right up to your home.

    It’s amazing the difference in speed this small data journey can have. With full fibre broadband, you can expect to receive speeds of 1Gb+. That's going to mean a really quick game download!

    The downside is full fibre is only available to a small percentage of homes in the UK, and it’s taking a good while to get everyone up to speed.

Upload speed and gaming broadband

If you’re interested in simply playing games, upload speed isn't a priority. It has no bearing on single-player titles, and for online gaming, an ADSL broadband service with an upload speed up to 512Kb or 1Mb can handle the small amount of data sent during play.

If you’ve chosen fibre broadband because you want quick downloads, the faster upload speed it provides will be more than enough.

But upload speed is really important for some gamers, perhaps even more than download rates. If you have any plans to host online matches from home or stream your games on Twitch or YouTube, then you’ll want to get the fastest upload speed possible.

Ready to serve: hosting online games

Hosting online matches requires more upload speed than standard online play. Though how much it matters depends on the type of game and the number of clients.

ADSL broadband can manage a small handful of players in an online shooter, or a larger group if a game doesn’t demand lightning-quick reflexes. But for bigger crowds in fast-paced games, or hosting heavily modded private servers, fibre broadband is recommended.

It may also be worth considering whether you want to get a broadband service with a static IP address. Most deals will include a dynamic IP, which means the IP address can change from time to time. But hosting a server is easier when you have a fixed IP address, so it may be worth hunting down a provider that offers static IP addresses.

For more help, we have a guide to static IP addresses and providers.

Twitch and beyond: streaming your games

Another good reason to get broadband with fast upload speeds is if you're interested in live streaming games to Twitch or YouTube.

This is an extremely demanding use of the upload speed, and fibre broadband is significantly better for streaming than ADSL. 

With Openreach fibre, you can get upload speeds up to 20Mb, or around 90Mb with an FTTP broadband package. FTTP is a form of fibre broadband where they use fibre cables from the exchange all the way into your home, so the speeds are much better.

  • What's Openreach?

    Openreach is the company that maintains the former British Telecom Network used for the majority of broadband and phone services. If a repair or installation is required, it’s Openreach who will send an engineer, not your provider.

    More than 650 service providers using the Openreach network. That’s the majority of the UK’s broadband providers. This includes Sky, TalkTalk and BT. The big exception to this is Virgin Media - it has its own, separate cable network.

Virgin Media offers upload speeds up to 104Mb on its Gig1 package. That’s a big step up from a theoretical maximum of just 1Mb on ADSL, which is going to struggle with anything other than relatively low-quality video.

Some alternative providers such as Trooli offer packages with symmetrical upload and download. So, you can sign up to staggering upload speeds of 2Gb!

Broadcasting 720p resolution video will need a connection that can achieve a stable minimum speed of 1.8-2.5Mb. For 1080p, the starting point is 3-3.5Mb.

Streaming on ADSL is possible, but video quality will be heavily affected. And if you’re trying to play online at the same time, you’ll have to remember to leave enough upload bandwidth for the game as well.

What’s the best broadband for gaming?

You’d have to go out of your way to choose a broadband deal that’s really bad for gaming, but some services do stand out from the pack:

Plusnet

Plusnet is truly unlimited, has reasonable speeds, affordable deals, and award-winning customer service. A great choice for casual and hardcore gamers alike.

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Sky

While not as cheap as Plusnet, Sky has some good value deals, and it’s truly unlimited with no data caps or traffic management. 

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BT

BT can be quite expensive, but it's truly unlimited and comes with a good quality free router. It also offers an affordable 50Mb fibre package that's not available anywhere else.

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Virgin Media

Virgin is the fastest broadband available to many homes, with speeds up to 1.1Gb making short work of even the biggest game downloads.

However, it should be noted that upload speeds are underwhelming relative to the download performance, and to get an upload rate that matches Openreach fibre services, you will need to sign up for a faster (and more expensive) package.

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Frequently asked questions about gaming broadband

  • What’s the best router for gaming?

    The free router supplied by your provider will be enough for most people. But if you are interested in buying your own router with more features, PCMag suggests the following are top picks for gamers in 2024:

    • TP-Link Archer AX110000
    • Asus ROG Rapture GT6 Tri-Band Wi-Fi 6
    • Netgear Nighthawk Tri-Band Wi-Fi 6E
    • Acer Predator Connect W6
  • Do I need a special type of broadband for gaming?

    Some providers are geared toward gamers and market 'gaming broadband' deals. If gaming is your passion, it might be tempting to go for something that caters specifically to your hobby.

    Don't be fooled! They’re all selling the same basic connections as any other network. And their packages rarely offer anything that makes them stand out from a regular deal.

    This isn’t to say a particular gaming broadband service is bad, but you should judge it on the same criteria as any other provider. Don't disregard other providers just because they haven't promised to help you get better KD ratios.

  • Is it better to use a wired or Wi-Fi connection for gaming?

    If you’re trying to get the fastest possible speed and lowest latency, a wired network connection is best. Otherwise, Wi-Fi will be fine for most people – assuming you can get a strong wireless signal. The further you are from the router and the weaker the signal, the more you’ll notice a reduction in speed and stability.

    If you can, use 5Ghz Wi-Fi (802.11ac or 802.11ax) as this is much faster.

  • Can mobile broadband be used for gaming?

    Mobile broadband can be fast enough for gaming if you can get a strong 4G or 5G signal. But data caps are going to be an issue. Mobile contract data limits can be fairly small and are not suitable for frequent large downloads. If you’re playing on mobile broadband, look for a plan with unlimited data. Otherwise, try to do all your big downloads on another connection first.

  • Does it matter what time of day I play online games?

    What time of day you play games can affect your speeds, latency and so on. With people’s work lives generally being between 9am and 5pm, you might find your internet speeds run a little faster at home. But after that, as everyone gets home and streams TV or wants to be online and your speeds may slow down a little.

    This isn’t as bad if your broadband provider doesn’t use traffic management. But if you're playing at a time of day where most people in your home or local area are using the internet, you could see a slight difference if you don’t have the highest speeds.

    That said, it won’t make a big difference to a lot of gamers. Provided your entire household isn’t downloading or gaming at the same time, it should be fine. It’s just something to bear in mind if you do notice a difference.

Expert Summary

Gaming is an activity that so many of us enjoy doing, and we’re confident our guide has given you all you need to know to get started online.

Firstly, our advice is that you don’t need the fastest speeds to be able to game or even stream your games. Just make you’re on fibre. And we recommend a wired connection, too, to make the most of your speeds.

By getting a fibre package, it should naturally ensure you don’t face concerns such as latency, lag, and packet loss.

Higher download speeds are more important if you’re downloading games frequently. This is where faster speeds can make a massive difference. You might also want to look at packages with higher download speeds if several people will be playing simultaneously.

Finally, higher upload speeds are important if you’re hosting online games or broadcasting your gaming. Otherwise, you don’t need to worry too much.

Meet the author:

Contributor

Matt has been working with Broadband Genie since 2009. A lifelong tech enthusiast, he has 20 years of experience writing about technology for print and online.


Specialist subject: The technicalities of broadband

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