How Much Speed Do I Need for Online Gaming?
Playing games online can push your internet connection to its limits, but unlike most online activities, the limiting factor usually isn’t download speed. No amount of speed is going to stop your game from lagging if you’ve got latency that’s ranging into the hundreds of milliseconds.
But wait! Isn’t a “good” internet connection and a “fast” internet connection the exact same thing? It turns out that there’s a lot more to a good internet connection than just a fast download speed, even if that’s all you normally see advertised by internet service providers (ISPs).
If you’re cringing at the thought of going through the fine print of every high-speed internet plan in your area, don’t worry. We’ve boiled down the most important points of internet speed for gaming online so you know exactly what kind of connection to get.
Download speed and upload speed
Playing games online typically isn’t the most bandwidth-intensive activity. That’s because unlike an online video, which is streamed directly over your internet connection, the graphics chip in your PC or console renders (draws) the game’s world you see displayed on your screen.
In fact, very little information passes between the gaming server and the gamer. The information that is passed online includes the following:
- Keyboard input
- Mouse input
- Controller input
- Player location (you and everyone else)
- The current world state
- Player communication
Out of the items on the above list, player location can introduce slowdowns, especially in massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. These games can have more real on-screen players than the typical online gaming scenario, causing frame rate drops and “teleporting” players.
Since games are interactive, you also have to consider upload speed or the speed at which information from your computer travels to a remote server. Again, the amount of upload speed you need is actually very small, about 1–2 Mbps.1,2,3 Even a poor connection can usually meet these speeds, which is why upload speed often takes a backseat to more important factors.
Minimum speed requirements across game systems
|System||Min. download speed||Min. upload speed||Max latency|
|Nintendo Switch1||3 Mbps||1 Mbps||N/A|
|Xbox One2||3 Mbps||0.5 Mbps||150 ms|
|PlayStation 43,4||2 Mbps||2 Mbps||N/A|
As long as your internet connection meets these requirements, you can play games online. However, if you want to have a consistent online experience, we suggest having a slightly better connection.
Our speed recommendations for playing games online
|System||Download speed||Upload speed||Latency|
|HSI Recommendation||5+ Mbps||3+ Mbps||50–100 ms|
Since the actual speed requirements are so low, games and game systems often don’t give specific recommendations. Instead, they simply require a “broadband internet connection.” The FCC defines a broadband connection as having a download speed of 25 Mbps and an upload speed of 3 Mbps—more than enough for you to have several consoles playing online simultaneously.5
If you’re not sure you have a broadband connection, you can take a speed test to make certain. Unfortunately, speed requirements don’t touch on the critical question for playing games online: latency.
High latency is your worst enemy
Latency measures how long it takes a signal from your device to reach a remote server and come back. This is measured by sending a single “ping” of information back and forth, so it’s also referred to as “ping rate.” If your latency gets too high when you’re playing a game online, you start to experience lag.
There are a number of factors that impact latency. These include the following:
The physical distance between you and the server
Games that support co-op and multiplayer use regional servers because geolocation does matter, even if a server is just a few states away.
Why? Because your signal moves through multiple “hops” as it travels between you and the server. The more hops your signal must traverse, the longer its journey will take—which translates to a higher latency. Traffic congestion can also cause a slowdown, too, delaying your controller input.
Your internet connection type
For example, fiber-optic cables transmit more data at once than copper phone lines, resulting in a faster speed.
The speed at which your signals travel back and forth is different from your download speed or bandwidth. For example, a movie downloads at a slower rate over a 5 Mbps DSL connection than it does over a 50 Mbps satellite connection.
When playing games online, however, the DSL connection would be much more responsive, while the high latency of the satellite connection would cause so much lag that most fast-paced games wouldn’t even be playable.
These factors mean certain types of internet connections inherently have more latency than others. Satellite internet has the highest latency because it’s a wireless transmission that also has to travel to space and back to reach a remote server. Insulated cable connections have lower latency than uninsulated phone lines, while fiber optic cables have lower latency than both.
The best internet connections for gaming online
A fiber-optic plan like Google Fiber or Verizon Fios is the best connection for playing games online. Cable internet comes in at a close second, with some 5G networks also providing stable connections with low latency. This is followed by other wired connections, which generally introduce more latency but are still better for gaming than wireless connections.
|Connection type||Download speeds||Latency7||Providers|
|Fiber||50–2,000 Mbps (2 Gbps)||11–14 ms||Google Fiber, Verizon, AT&T|
|Cable||15–1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps)||15–35 ms||Xfinity, Cox, Spectrum|
|DSL||1–100 Mbps||25–43 ms||CenturyLink, Frontier, Verizon|
|5G||25–1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps)||-||Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile|
|4G LTE||4–100 Mbps||-||Verizon, T-Mobile|
|Fixed Wireless||10–1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps)||-||Rise, Windstream, AT&T|
|Satellite||12–100 Mbps||594–624 ms||Viasat, HughesNet|
Consistent and reliable latency data is difficult to come by. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was a source for some of the most comprehensive studies of internet latency. However, the agency has since stopped including latency in its annual broadband reports, so newer technologies like 5G and home 4G LTE are not included.
Although 5G is still an emerging wireless technology—especially its gigabit millimeter-wave connections—it promises to have lower latency than any other wireless connection. 4G and 4G LTE connections generally have much more lag than wired connections but are capable of reaching our recommended latency of below 100 ms.
How to reduce lag
If your latency is high enough that you’re starting to experience lag when playing games online, you can take a few steps to try to reduce your latency and keep your game running smoothly.
Don’t use Wi-Fi
Wireless connections, even fast wireless connections, will add a bit more delay to your connection. Physically plugging into your router with an ethernet cable will bypass this delay, making your connection that much more responsive.
If you have to use Wi-Fi, make sure that your computer or game system is as close to your Wi-Fi router as possible and that you have a clear line of sight with as few obstructions as possible.
Also, be sure to connect your wireless device to the 5 GHz band. It’s less congested than a 2.4 GHz connection, resulting in reduced latency.
With the Nintendo Switch, we recommend playing it docked and using a USB-based Ethernet adapter to connect it to your network. The Nintendo-approved Dual USB Playstand works with the Switch and Switch Lite.
You can use a similar adapter on a notebook or desktop that doesn’t have an Ethernet port.
For an expanded explanation, we pit wired connections against wireless in our Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi comparison.
Reset network devices
Resetting your router and modem can sometimes improve their performance. Since very small differences in latency can make a big difference in the amount of lag you experience in a game, it’s worth restarting your equipment.
Update drivers and firmware
Hardware manufacturers are constantly trying to improve the performance of their products, so updating your devices regularly will guarantee the best performance possible. Updates can also fix bugs and incompatibility issues that could be interrupting your connection. Be sure to do the following:
- Update your computer’s drivers and operating system, especially the graphics drivers
- Update your console’s operating system
- Update the firmware for all controllers and peripherals
- Update your router’s firmware
Turn off unnecessary applications and devices
If your connection is still struggling while playing online games, try to reduce the amount of traffic on your home network. Make sure that someone isn’t streaming 4K video in another room when you’re about to start a new match.
You can also prevent other devices from bogging down the network by turning off smart devices and pausing software and OS updates while you’re playing—just remember to reactivate everything when you’re done.
Use the closest server
Distance is one of the biggest factors in latency. Even if every device on your connection is running at peak efficiency, it still takes time for a signal to travel to a remote location and back. Games almost always connect you to the nearest server, but if you’re experiencing unexplained latency issues, double-check that you’re not connecting to the European server when you’re playing in North America.
Use port forwarding
Online gaming networks like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network suggest that gamers assign “static” IP addresses to their consoles and route incoming and outgoing traffic to those addresses. While routers typically assign dynamic addresses to your devices which change over time, a static address never changes.
When you assign a static IP address, you can tell the router to forward data to that address through specific ports. A port is merely a “dock” that handles a specific type of “ship” (data) arriving to and leaving from your router. Gaming networks typically send and receive internet data through specific ports.
To create a static IP address and open ports to that address, you must make the changes in your router or wireless gateway. Port forwarding works with any device—not just gaming consoles.
Use Quality of Service (QoS) controls
You can allocate more bandwidth to your gaming devices by making a few adjustments in your router or wireless gateway. The router will consider this traffic as “critical” and will prioritize your gaming data over other applications, like Netflix and YouTube.
Avoid peak hours
Cable internet connections can experience a slowdown based on the amount of traffic in your neighborhood. This means that download speeds can be significantly lower than normal during peak hours, which can also increase latency. If you experience more lag while playing games right after work than you do late at night, local internet traffic might be to blame.
Check your connections
A bad Ethernet cable can lead to gaming lag woes, whether it’s the cable connecting your router to your modem or the one tethering your PC to the network. Also, check your internet connection to the modem, as a loose cable will cause lag-inducing instability.
Upgrade your internet
If you’ve tried all these steps and are still experiencing more lag than you can tolerate, it might be time to upgrade to a better internet connection.
Downloads can also strain your connection
Playing your games online will push the limits of your internet connection more than any other online activity, but it’s not the only way that games can put a strain on your connection.
Many modern games take up a lot of storage space on your computer or console. This means that downloading games from an online distributor like Steam or the Microsoft Store can take a long time. It can also eat through monthly data caps in no time flat.
Updates can be data hogs too. For example, Bethesda’s Steel Reign update for Fallout 76 weighs a hefty 15.9 GB when downloaded from the Microsoft Store, and 7.1 GB when downloaded from Steam.8 Bethesda’s long-awaited Doom Eternal Update 6 patch adding ray tracing to the visuals is around 4 GB on Steam.
Latency should still be your number-one priority in choosing an internet plan for playing games online, but choosing a plan with unlimited data will save you a lot of headaches. Fast download speeds also help out with those big new games. After all, having extremely long download times on Day One isn’t much fun.
Your internet needs become a bit more complicated if you stream your games on Twitch or YouTube. Streaming has all the normal requirements for a low-latency connection for playing games online, plus the additional upload speed you need to keep a steady bitrate on your livestream.
For more information on what to look for in an internet connection for livestreaming, check out our guide to internet speed for live video game streaming. We also provide a guide on how to stream on Twitch that offers all the information you need.
Cloud gaming services like Stadia and PlayStation Now store and run their games in a virtual machine you stream from their servers. Rather than download and run these games locally on your computer or console, you stream them from the cloud. This eliminates any hardware bottlenecks that could prevent a game from running at its highest quality on your device.
That said, you don’t need a $4,000 desktop or the latest console to play these games. Instead, you just need a browser or an app, depending on the platform. For example, you can stream Stadia on a low-end Chromebook or a Chromecast—Google’s servers do all the heavy rendering, not your devices.
The downside to game streaming is that games are rendered on the server and then streamed across the internet in Full HD or 4K resolutions. And because these experiences are interactive and not passive (like Netflix and Hulu), input latency can be an issue.
That said, you need a good internet connection to support game streaming. Here are the internet speed requirements for the four major gaming streaming services:
|Stadia||10 Mbps||Not specified||35 Mbps|
|Xbox Remote Play||10 Mbps (minimum)||Not specified||Not specified|
|GeForce Now||15 Mbps||25 Mbps||Not specified|
|PlayStation Now||5 Mbps (minimum)||Not specified||Not specified|
Online games vs. playing games online
We spend a lot of time discussing games you can play online, which are games that target the single-player experience first and include multiplayer components. Games that fall under the “play games online” umbrella would include Doom Eternal, Pokemon Sword and Shield, and Resident Evil Village. They can experience latency when played in co-op and multiplayer modes, especially when more than a few players are moving on the screen.
Online games, however, can be highly susceptible to latency. These include The Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft, and similar MMOs. The player count is typically high, which means both the server and the client (your game) must keep track of all these people. This can be a huge processing load even if you have the best connection available. Your frame rate may drop and your input may feel slow.
- Nintendo Customer Support, “Troubleshooting Slow Download and Upload Speeds,” Accessed December 3, 2020.
- Xbox Support, “Troubleshoot your network connection speed,” Accessed December 4, 2020.
- PlayStation Help & Support, “PS4 Error Code NP-37667-9,” Accessed December 4, 2020.
- PlayStation Help & Support, “PS4 Error Code NP-38497-1,” Accessed December 4, 2020.
- Federal Communications Commission, “2015 Broadband Progress Report,” February 4, 2015. Accessed December 4, 2020.
- Stadia Help, “Bandwidth, data usage, and stream quality,” Accessed December 5, 2020.
- Federal Communications Commission, “Seventh Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report: Appendix F-1,” May 20, 2011, Accessed December 16, 2020.
- Bethesda, “Fallout 76 Update Notes,” July 7, 2021. Accessed July 13, 2021.
Author - Peter Christiansen
Peter Christiansen writes about satellite internet, rural connectivity, livestreaming, and parental controls for HighSpeedInternet.com. Peter holds a PhD in communication from the University of Utah and has been working in tech for over 15 years as a computer programmer, game developer, filmmaker, and writer. His writing has been praised by outlets like Wired, Digital Humanities Now, and the New Statesman.
Editor - Cara Haynes
Cara Haynes has been editing and writing in the digital space for seven years, and she's edited all things internet for HighSpeedInternet.com for five years. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. When she's not editing, she makes tech accessible through her freelance writing for brands like Pluralsight. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span.