Trying to game online with an inadequate connection or lackluster speed can be mind melting. We’ve been there, and sometimes we only last seconds before another player gets the better of us (that would be Counter-Strike) or we get dropped and rage quit. It’s for these reasons we wanted to find the best ISPs for gaming—and we did. We pored over tons of research from the FCC, and we’re sharing how we did it, along with some surprising results.
Before you dive in, make sure you know which internet providers are even in your area (use the ZIP code tool below).
Best internet service providers for gaming
It’s not really fair to compare fiber to other types of internet service (cable, DSL, satellite), but Verizon Fios is easily the best internet provider for gaming.
Verizon Fios’s latency measures at 15 milliseconds (AT&T U-verse is 33 milliseconds in comparison) and its advertised-to-actual download speed is 92% (third place). Verizon Fios also has high upload speeds, and its packet loss is on the low end at 0.20% (that’s good). The biggest downside to Verizon Fios is its limited availability. Read our full review of Verizon Fios.
Runner up: Optimum
Optimum (formally Cablevision) is a runner-up because it has the lowest latency out of any ISP (even fiber!) at 14 milliseconds, delivers 101% of advertised-to-actual-download speed (first place), and has a low packet loss of 0.10%. Read our full review of Optimum.
However, because Optimum is cable internet, it’s subject to network congestion during peak hours. Also, Optimum’s availability is even more limited than Verizon Fios, which leads us to the next runner-up.
Second runner up: Comcast
Yes, believe it or not, Comcast XFINITY is one of the best ISPs for online gaming. It gets a lot of hate for its customer service (we’ve covered it too), but the data is there to back it up: Comcast is better than other providers for online gaming.
Its latency was measured at 22 milliseconds in the FCC report, it delivers 92% of actual-to-advertised-download speed for its users, and it has a packet loss of just 0.10%.
Comcast XFINITY is also much more widely available than Verizon Fios or Optimum, so it might just be the best internet you can get in your area. Read our full review of Comcast.
How we chose the best internet for online gaming
To find the best internet service providers (ISPs) for online gaming, we used the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Measuring Broadband in America Report, a “rigorous, nationwide study of consumer broadband performance,” and research from our full-length ISP reviews.
In the FCC report, we found the following detailed information that matched our criteria for each major ISP:
- Actual download speeds*
- Actual upload speeds*
- Packet loss
*Compared to advertised speeds
It’s not just download speed that matters when it comes to online gaming; latency, or the time it takes for data to travel, is more important. In fact, it is the single most important factor if you want to play games online.
Think of latency as the time between an action and the response. If you are experiencing high latency, you’ll notice a delay between the action (click of the mouse) and the response (your in-game character firing a weapon).
Latency can also be a bit relative. The closer you are to the server, the lower the latency.
Say you’re playing Overwatch, and you experience high latency. You’ll notice characters freeze in place or suddenly jump forward—a symptom of latency called lag. We’ve heard from Overwatch players who experienced significant lag when latency exceeds 100 milliseconds. A measure of milliseconds may seem insignificant, but any serious gamer will immediately understand the frustration of missing a perfectly-placed shot in an FPS (first-person shooter) due to high latency.
Latency can also be a bit relative. The closer you are to the server, the lower the latency. In fact, this is a common workaround for gamers who experience high latency; players make adjustments to network settings so that they connect to the closest server.
The FCC Measuring Broadband report measures each major ISP for latency. It breaks it down by ISP and connection type.
Latency by ISP and connection type
If you’re curious to know how to measure your latency and internet speed, there are plenty of tools online to help you figure it out; we strongly recommend using Measurement Lab (see screenshot of our results below).
Actual download speeds
Download speed is arguably the second-most important factor in online gaming, and to find what download speeds ISPs actually deliver, we pulled data from the FCC report. The percentages listed in the table below show actual download speed to advertised download speed for 90% of an ISP’s customers. For example, 90% of Windstream’s customers are only getting 42% of the download speed Windstream advertises. Considering ISPs advertise “high-speed internet” (a loosely defined term), we appreciate the FCC cutting through the marketing bull to find what customers actually get.
Actual vs advertised download speed
You don’t necessarily need a high download speed for online gaming, but it might be important if you share bandwidth. For example, you’ll want at least 3 Mbps (equal to 0.375 MB/s) dedicated solely to your game. So if your roommates are binge-watching Netflix, make sure there’s bandwidth left for you too.
Actual upload speeds
Upload speed is another important factor in online gaming, and it also plays a role in latency. If you’re looking to livestream your game (Twitch), you’ll want to pay particular attention to upload speed. But even if you don’t livestream, you’ll want to know which ISPs have the best upload speeds.
The table below shows the percentages for actual-to-advertised upload speed for ISPs. It’s also the same as the download-speed table above in that the percentage is what 90% of an ISP’s customers experience. So 90% of CenturyLink customers experience 73% of the advertised upload speed.
Actual vs advertised upload speed
We’ve talked about the time it takes data to travel (latency), but packet loss is when traveling data fails to reach its destination. Packet loss, like latency, can hinder your online gaming experience.
We’ve included packet loss measurements from the Measuring Broadband report below. You’ll notice that internet type doesn’t play a huge role in packet loss.
The FCC says a “few tenths of a percent” isn’t likely to affect online gaming, but we’ve heard from some League of Legends players that even small packet loss results in glitchy gameplay (rubberbanding, drifting, pausing, etc.).
Internet Speeds for Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Mac
Outside of the criteria we used to pick the best ISP (and runners-up) for internet, we learned a few other things you might find useful for online gaming.If you want the best online gaming experience with your console, here are some things to consider.
Microsoft is clear on its minimum requirements for online gaming, but we’d like to emphasize that these numbers are the minimum.
- Latency: < 150 milliseconds
- Download speed: 3 Mbps
- Upload speed: 0.5 Mbps
Also, it’s likely you’ll have something else (or someone) in your home using up some bandwidth, so play it safe and make sure you have plenty of bandwidth left for gaming.
TIP: How to run an Xbox speed test
- Press the Guide button and go to Settings > System Settings > Network Settings.
- Select your network.
- Select Network Statistics.
When the test is complete, you’ll see latency, upload speed, and download speed.
We couldn’t find any information on PS4’s minimum requirements for online gaming because there aren’t any. Really. The only mention of minimum requirements from Sony is if you’re looking to use PlayStation Now (PlayStation’s video game streaming service), which requires a minimum download speed of 5 Mbps. So even though there’s nothing official, it makes sense to follow Xbox’s minimum requirements.
TIP: How to run a PS4 speed test
- Go to Settings
- Select Network > Test Internet Connection
When the test is complete, you’ll see upload speed, and download speed; however, if you want to find your latency, you’ll need to use the PS4’s web browser and head to a latency or ping test website.
Online gaming for PC (and Mac)
If you’re not using a console, you can worry about something in addition to latency, speed, and packet loss: your computer’s configuration and processing resources. We won’t get into hardware, but if you’re experiencing lackluster online gaming, it could be that you have too many applications running. For example, here are some common applications that can interfere with your gaming.
- Torrent programs
If you’re looking to troubleshoot your PC or Mac, there are plenty of great resources online from Battle.Net, Riot Games, and Steam that deal with latency, network connections, packet loss, and more.
Internet & online gaming FAQs
What is latency?
The measurement of time it takes data (packets) to travel back and forth from the server.
What is ping?
It’s often interchangeable with latency, but ping is a utility that measures latency.
What’s the difference between latency and ping?
More often than not, the terms latency and ping are used synonymously. However, they do have different meanings. A ping is a network utility that measures latency (e.g., you can ping an IP address in the command prompt or terminal), If you ping a website, the amount of time it takes for data to be sent and received is latency. So latency is a measurement of time and a ping is what’s used to measure it.
What is jitter?
A variation (change) in latency.
What is lag?
A visible delay in response time (i.e., delayed reactions).
What is rubber banding?
This is also called “teleporting” or “warping,” and it’s just like it sounds: an object moves suddenly from one spot to another. It happens when there is a lag between the client (you) and the server.
How can I test my latency, speed, and packet loss?
There are plenty of great online tools to use. We recommend using tests from Measurement Lab (M-Lab).
How can I check my packet loss?
You can use PingTest.net for a quick measurement of packet loss. If you want a more detailed analysis on packet loss, you can use Netalyzr, which Riot Games (developer of League of Legends) recommends.
Tell us about your online gaming experience
We’ve been scouring forums to find the best latency for League of Legends, Rocket League, Counter-Strike, Overwatch, etc., but we want to know what your experience has been with your games and your ISP.
Do you get any lag during prime-time hours with your ISP? Are you constantly plagued with connection issues with your console no matter what time of day it is? Are you one of the lucky few who never worries about getting their (online) game on? Let us know in the comments below.