A guide on what gamers should consider when choosing the best broadband deal for their gaming experience.
Many experts agree that download speed is not actually the most important factor, and that low latency, packet loss and jitters are more important.
Latency: measured in milliseconds. It is the amount of time that is taken to send information from one point to the next. For first person shooters and driving games, the ideal latency range is below 30ms.
When Ofcom tested the main broadband providers’ latency levels, they found that most of them come in at 20ms, but Sky and Virgin are even lower at 15ms.
Packet loss: this happens when one or more packets of data travelling across a network fails to reach its destination. This is normally caused by errors in data transmission, or by network congestion. Packet loss increases latency, because more time is needed to transmit data.
This varies a bit more than latency between providers. BT has the lowest packet loss at just 0.05%. Virgin has the highest packet loss, but this is still a low 0.2%. Virgin does offer a superfast option included in its VIVID bundles, which offer excellent graphics. Even so, BT and Sky offer better all-round deals for gamers.
Jitters: a jitter is how much the latency varies within a flow of data traffic. If a connection has a high amount of jitter, data packets arrive at their destination out of order. So, if there is a significant amount of packet loss, which increases latency, this will in turn create more jitter.
Traffic management: this means that at peak times of the day (evenings and weekends) everyone experiences a similar service. Some providers slow down your connection at peak times in order to achieve this. It’s essentially the fairest way networks can ensure that a select few people aren’t hogging the network. Most major providers do this a bit, but you should investigate when they do this and how much, to see if it suits your gaming schedule. However, a lot of top-range packages actually disable traffic management.
Low downtime: Some broadband providers have less robust infrastructure, meaning their connection goes down more often. It’s important to pick a provider that offers excellent customer service, so that someone can sort things out quickly when your connection does go down.
Ofcom releases an annual report on internet providers’ customer service, so always check this out to see how well your provider is performing.
General online broadband performance is also important to think about. You need a good quality router, but if you use your own hardware then this will rule out some providers. While BT is great for wireless performance, its Smart Hub has had trouble with some gaming devices, certainly the Xbox One.
A reliable connection is crucial, as losing connections can be frustrating in the middle of an online game. Sky is the most reliable, while Plusnet and Virgin are the worst.
Nowadays, games are constantly expanding, with new patches and downloadable content being produced in force. To keep up with this, you want the best download speed possible.
BT and Virgin offer the best broadband deals for speed. Downloading 10GB would take 3 hours on the quickest standard broadband line, but only 5 minutes with Virgin’s fastest speed of 350Mbps.
You probably won’t ever reach the advertised speeds, but you will still see an improvement with the faster options. You should also get an unlimited broadband deal to cater for all your downloads. Most services offer uncapped data as standard, but this is always worth checking.
Many gamers make their living by live streaming videos of themselves playing games on platforms like YouTube, for example PewDiePie, whose net worth is estimated at $20 million. If this is something you’re interested in, then you will need a really good upload speed. If you don’t have this, you could find yourself dealing with stream stuttering, or struggling when your speed dips in time.
To broadcast in 1080p, you will need an upload speed of at least 6Mbps. Most basic fibre broadband deals offer a speed of 9-10Mbps, so about the bare minimum that you would need. Higher end packages offer speeds of 20mbps, so would be much better suited for an aspiring streamer.
It’s worth knowing that Virgin’s upload to download speed ratio is a lot lower than that of other providers. This means you will have to commit to their most expensive 76Mbps package, so they may not be the best value for money.