If you’re a serious gamer, particularly a gamer that plays Internet-intensive games in categories like massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), you should be aware that some Internet service providers (ISPs) are better for your gaming action than others.
Speed Isn’t Everything
When looking at ISPs, many people consider speed to be the primary factor delivering a quality experience, but when it comes to games, speed is not the most important quality for an ISP to have. Instead, the quality of the connection rather than the quantity of the data being served is the most important consideration when choosing an ISP.
As long as your download speed is over a few megabits per second (Mbps), the throughput of the connection shouldn’t be a factor when determining the quality of gameplay. Rather, what you should be looking for is something called “low latency” — a steady, consistent back-and-forth stream of data flowing between you and your ISP.
Test Your Latency
Speedtest.net developer Ookla is well-known for having one of the most widely-used apps, Speedtest, for testing speeds of an Internet connection from a desktop or mobile device. But Ookla also has another app, called Pingtest, available at pingtest.net, which measures two other elements of a connection: latency and jitter.
In this context, latency is an average of the time it takes for a data packet to travel from your device to an ISP’s server and back. Jitter is a measure of the consistency of this latency over a number of different attempts to make the same measurement. Low jitter means high consistency and vice-versa. Ideally, for gaming, you want both latency and jitter to be as low as possible.
The Best ISPs for Gaming
In national tests run by PC Magazine, the best U.S. ISPs for gaming were ranked in this order:
- Verizon FIOS
- Optimum Online
- Optimum WiFi
Unmetered Game Downloads
In addition to low latency, many gamers are downloading their games rather than buying physical copies of them. Often, this can mean huge download sizes in terms of gigabytes (GBs), and in many cases, ISPs may limit how many gigabytes you’re allocated for downloading in a month. Be sure to look at all of an ISPs monthly packages to see which package is best for you. There are some ISPs that make exceptions, called unmetered data, for game downloads. Check with your ISP to see if they offer this.
In the second part of this series, we’ll look at things you can do to speed up play.