At HighSpeedInternet.com we commonly get asked, “Why is my internet so slow?” Many factors can contribute to a slow internet connection. The first step to diagnosing your particular issue is understanding that “slow” can mean two very different things.
Slow internet can be caused by low bandwidth.
Slow internet can be caused by high latency.
There can also be slowdowns caused by things like Wi-Fi signal interference and over-loaded routers, but if all your equipment is working properly, then latency and bandwidth are the two likely culprits of your slow internet. First, find out how much speed you actually need in your household by clicking the tool below.
What is bandwidth?
Bandwidth is what almost all internet service providers call “speed” in commercials and marketing. That can be a little misleading, because high bandwidth will not always result in an internet connection that feels fast to you.
Bandwidth is measured in Mbps or megabits per second. Your internet connection will have two bandwidth numbers: download speed, and upload speed. Most ISPs only talk about download speed, because download speed matters most to most people. Unless you’re sending files, upload speed matters less.
What is Latency?
Latency is the delay between when you click something and when you see it. It’s the time it takes for your request for data to get to a server (like a website), and then for the data to get back to you.
Latency is measured in milliseconds, abbreviated “ms”. Most people will begin to notice delays of about 150-200ms. “Ping” is another word that is often used interchangeably with latency. “What’s your ping?” is another way of asking, “What is your delay/latency (in ms) to the server?”
So what’s the difference between bandwidth and latency?
It’s easiest to explain the impact of each in some hypothetical scenarios:
If your bandwidth is good and your latency is bad: Web pages would take a long time to start loading, but once the initial connection was made the rest of the page would load almost instantly.
If your latency is good and your bandwidth is bad: Web pages would begin to load almost instantly, but the page would load slowly, one piece at a time.
Again, “good bandwidth” means bigger numbers, measured in Mbps. “Good latency” means a low response time, also called ping, which is measure in ms.
Think of your internet like a water pipe, where you’re sending water out through one pipe and bringing it in through another. Bandwidth is like the size of the pipe and the volume of water it can send or receive at any point. Latency is like water pressure; it’s the speed at which water goes through the pipe.
Why does latency vs. bandwidth matter?
Gaming actually doesn’t need “fast” internet in the sense that it’s usually marketed. Bandwidth is relatively unimportant (except for getting game patches faster), but latency is key. Low ping times are highly-prized in fast-clicking twitch games like Call of Duty or Battlefield.
Streaming video or audio is mostly a matter of bandwidth, but latency can also cause problems. In theory a high-bandwidth connection with high latency would work, but in practice it rarely does. Most streaming services aren’t equipped to buffer long enough to stream seamlessly, even with a major buffering wait at the beginning. There are apps like NightShift that pre-load streaming content for high-latency users, but at that point you’re essentially downloading videos and not streaming at all.
Video chat works best with low latency. It will still work with high latency, but you’ll have to work with the awkward delay in the conversation. HD video streaming will require more bandwidth, but the blurry sort of chat most of us are used to will only require a couple Mbps.
Browsing works best with decent latency. While you can get by with high latency, it can be frustrating that you have to wait several seconds every time you visit a new page. More bandwidth doesn’t hurt, either, especially if you’re looking at high-res images, gifs, or video.
Which services have good bandwidth, and which have good latency?
Most wired connections have fairly low latency. DSL and cable generally have 10-30ms response times within the US. Fiber is slightly faster at 5-20ms depending on equipment and location. Unfortunately, there is no way to know what your latency is going to be before purchasing, but generally it will be acceptable on wired connections.
Satellite internet is notorious for high latency. Many games are difficult or impossible to play on satellite internet, because the signal must literally go to space and back. The majority of the delay is in processing and re-transmitting the signal. We don’t generally recommend satellite Internet due to bandwidth concerns when a wireline connection is available.
Average DL speed
XFINITY by Comcast, Charter Spectrum, Cox Comunnications
Of course your actual speeds and latency will depend on which providers are available in your area. If you need help determining which internet providers are available near you, enter your zip code below:
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DSL or Fiber: Find the Right One for You
Internet access is crucial to modern life, but finding the right service can be complicated and confusing. There are lots of different options to choose from, each with their own pros and cons.While there is no perfect Internet plan for everyone, there are options to meet the needs of every lifestyle and every kind of user. To find the best option in your area, check out this side-by-side comparison of two popular types of Internet: DSL and fiber.
The fundamentals of data transmission are the same for both Internet types: information is sent back and forth between the user and the Internet Service Provider (ISP) via a network of wires. However, the type of wires carrying the data and the way signals get transmitted differ from service to service.
DSL stands for “Digital Subscriber Line,” which essentially means that the service uses copper phone lines to transmit electronic data between your computer and the wider Internet. There are two variants of DSL: ADSL (asymmetric) and SDSL (symmetric). ADSL — the most common connection type for residential setups — allows you to use your telephone line for both landline calls and Internet access, while SDSL uses the whole connection for Internet access, resulting in faster upload speeds at the expense of voice services. It is worth noting that DLS’s electronic signals can degrade as they travel, meaning that service quality may be affected by the distance between the ISP’s hub and the user-end termination point. Further, any electromagnetic interference or damage to phone line infrastructure may cause interruptions in the connection.
Fiber-optic Internet is currently one of the most advanced Internet services available in the United States. Instead of using copper cables to transmit data, fiber-optic cables are made up of ultra-thin glass or plastic strands that carry light instead of electricity. These light pulses transmit messages between your computer and the rest of the world.Because light can travel quickly through fiber-optic cables, fiber networks can carry substantial amounts of data over long distances without any service degradation. Additionally, because light signals are less affected by power surges, fiber connections don’t generally suffer from interference during electrical events.
Many people tend to assume that all in-home Internet arrangements use the same equipment, regardless of connection type. However, because DSL delivers data via electronic signals while fiber makes use of light waves, the two connections actually require drastically different equipment setups and installation processes.
DSL follows the model that most Internet users are used to: a modem/router combination that transmits and broadcasts Internet for both wired and wireless connections throughout the home. Further, because DSL has been around for so long, there are plenty of equipment options, ranging from standard ISP-provided devices to high-end customizable setups. And while it may be more convenient to use the equipment that comes with your service contract, you can save a few dollars each month by buying your own modem or router instead of renting one from your provider.When it comes to installation, most DSL connections run through already-placed telephone lines, meaning that the service is easy to install and likely won’t require professional help. In fact, many DSL ISPs even supply simple self-installation kits. If you’re hesitant to install your own service, or you have a unique wiring situation in your home, you can also opt for a professional installation — though you may be charged an additional fee.
Fiber-optic Internet connections do use routers, but that’s where the similarities with DSL end. Because data is delivered via light, traditional modems won’t work with fiber Internet. Instead, you’ll need to use a more complex setup — including an Optical Network Terminal (ONT) — to convert the light signals into usable digital data.Because fiber technology is still young, there aren’t many third-party equipment options, so you’ll have to rely on your fiber ISP to supply you with most of the equipment you need. If you do opt to use your own router, you’ll need to verify that it can handle the speed capacity that your fiber plan advertises.Due to the more complex installation process, fiber Internet is typically set up by a professional. Self-install kits are rare, and they are usually only available for homes that have previously had fiber installed.
There are few things more frustrating than slow Internet speeds — from start-and-stop video streams to choppy Skype calls, download speed makes a huge difference in the way you use the Internet. Fortunately, DSL and fiber Internet each provide a wide range of speed tiers for different types of users.
Residential DSL services don’t necessarily have the fastest speeds on the market, but most plans offer enough bandwidth for basic Internet usage. Advertised download speeds usually range from 1 Mbps to 20 Mbps, while upload speeds rarely get above 1 Mbps. As with most Internet connections, you likely won’t receive advertised speeds all the time — several different factors can affect the quality of your connection. For example, because DSL service quality deteriorates over long distances, Internet speeds may differ if your home is located far from your provider’s exchange point. DSL is also susceptible to traffic-based slowing during peak usage times, so streaming Netflix on a weekday evening may prove challenging.
Fiber-optic Internet is the fastest, most reliable Internet available in the United States. Speeds generally stay fairly stable, regardless of regional traffic or distance from the ISP. Additionally, most fiber Internet providers boast equal upload and download speeds, and some top-tier fiber plans can range up over 1 Gbps.Those high speeds translate into a lot of connectivity potential — families can stream HD video on multiple devices at once, make seamless video-calls, and play online games without any stuttering or slow buffering. Heavy uploaders also benefit from fiber-optic Internet’s equal uploading capacity, and Cloud storage and video uploading are much more effective than they would be on a slower connection.
Not all providers have access to the same networks. Some regions have limited Internet access in general, while others have one or two dominant providers that bear the Internet load of the entire area. As a result of these varied infrastructures, your Internet service options may vary quite a bit.
DSL is available to roughly 90 percent of the United States, making it one of the most common types of Internet available. As DSL connections utilize phone lines to transmit data, most houses will already have the wiring installed and ready to go.Additionally, because DSL has been around for such a long time, there are a decent number of providers who offer Internet services. Unless you live in a very rural location with little infrastructure, you should be able to get some level of DSL connectivity in your home.
Laying down fiber-optic cables can be prohibitively expensive for many ISPs, so only a small portion of the United States currently has access to fiber Internet. However, as more users demand faster speeds, fiber technology is starting to gain momentum. So while the United States may still be a far cry from fiber-savvy countries like South Korea, the overwhelming positive response toward fiber Internet will surely speed up technological advancement in the coming years.
While download speeds and availability are important, price is generally the most important aspect of an Internet plan. Though total costs will ultimately vary depending on your location and plan, certain service types — usually the more high-tech or faster options — do tend to cost more than others.
Because DSL tends to be slower than other types of Internet, it also tends to be cheaper — there are several affordable plans that cost less than $50 per month. Compared to cable and fiber Internet, DSL is a great budget option. If you’re looking for even more affordable services, don’t forget to look at bundled packages. Combining your Internet service with a landline phone plan, for example, can also net you some extra savings.
Because fiber uses cutting-edge home Internet technology, it is one of the more expensive ways of getting online. If you’re looking for gigabit speeds, for instance, you should expect to pay around $100 or more per month, depending on your provider. Some fiber providers also offer TV or voice services, so it’s worth checking out the bundles available in your area.
There’s no objective answer as to which connection type is better than the other — everything boils down to your connectivity needs. If you have a lot of devices connected to the Internet, or if you do a lot of bandwidth-heavy processes at home, fiber-optic Internet will likely be worth the money. Those who prefer a low-budget option with wide availability and basic functionality will likely prefer a DSL plan. Whatever your preferences are, you deserve to have an Internet plan that caters to your specific usage patterns. Determine the speed you want and take a look at what’s available in your neighborhood. Cox® is one of the leading providers of Internet service and for good reason — the company provides a wide range of High Speed Internet packages with a long list of added features. Whether you’re a casual web surfer or serious Internet user, there’s a suited for everyone.
The Benefits of Cable Internet
Cable Internet is the ideal Internet option for many users. Unlike dial-up, is always connected and isn’t prone to spontaneous disconnections. While it won’t beat the speeds of fiber-optic Internet, cable Internet is significantly faster than DSL or satellite Internet. In terms of pricing, you’ll spend more than you would on DSL, but less than for fiber-optic.
What Cable Internet Packages Does Cox Offer?
Cox’s advertised cable Internet plans start at $36.99 per month for 12 months with the Essential package, which includes speeds of up to 15 Mbps for downloads and 2 Mbps for uploads. Although this is the cheapest advertised package, it’s not necessarily the best choice for users who stream and download large files, or for households with multiple users.
At $54.99 per month for 12 months, the Preferred Internet package is just $18 more for over three times the downloading speed — 50 Mbps, plus 5 Mbps for uploads. This speed is typically sufficient for most households, as you can upload and download large files, stream movies and music, and play online games.
If you’re a heavier Internet user or have a large household using the same Internet connection, Cox also offers a Premier package — 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload speed for just $64.99 per month for 12 months — and an Ultimate package — 150 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speed for just $69.99 per month for 12 months. As you can see, you get significantly more Internet for minimal price increases.
What Are the Free Benefits of Cox Internet Packages?
All Cox High Speed Internet™ customers receive a premium version of the McAfee® Security Suite, providing anti-spam software, identity protection, and firewall coverage for as many as five devices in your home. Customers who have the Preferred or Premier Internet packages also receive PowerBoost™ for free. This proprietary technology offers a short burst of added speed when downloading large files. Preferred customers can expect to see a , and Premier customers can anticipate a 25 percent boost. Other free features include up to 10 email addresses and online Cloud storage space.
What Cox Internet Package Is Right for Me?
When it comes to Internet, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all package, which can make the decision challenging for many customers. As much as you want cheap Internet, you don’t want to experience lags. On the other hand, you also don’t want to pay for excessive speed or bandwidth that you don’t need. The best way to determine what Cox Internet package is right for you is to determine how much Internet you need. Use an Internet speed survey to evaluate your speed needs. From there, you can select a package from Cox, or from another Internet provider if Cox service isn’t available in your area.
*Pricing and speeds are current as of writing. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas. Some things are easier to shop for than others. Finding the right Internet Service Provider (ISP) can be one of the tough ones — but it doesn’t have to be. We know that you want to secure the best service at the best price. That’s why we’ve taken a close look at the top Internet providers across the country and compared them based on advertised plan variety, downstream speeds, price, and customer support and reliability. Review our findings and suggestions below, and say goodbye to those ISP shopping nightmares.
Internet habits and needs vary widely, so the number of plans available should be a big consideration when choosing an Internet provider. You need to know that your provider is able to deliver the services you want at a price you can afford.
There are a few different types of plan that ISPs offer. Some are stand-alone Internet plans that provide only a connection to the Internet. Others are bundled plans, combining Internet with other services like television or a phone line.
When it comes to which ISP offers the most advertised stand-alone Internet plan options, the leaders seem to be XFINITY® and Time Warner Cable®. Each company has as many as six widely advertised options, and that doesn’t include any bundled packages. Charter Spectrum falls at the other end of the scale, actively advertising only one stand-alone Internet plan. Most other Internet services, including AT&T and Cox have between three and five stand-alone Internet plans each.
Nearly all providers have bundling options. It’s important to take inventory of your overall needs when shopping for Internet, so that you can choose the plan that makes the most sense for you from both service and financial perspectives. If you are already in a contract with another provider, some ISPs, like Charter Spectrum, have offers that will help buy out your current contract when you switch.
Also keep in mind that not all plans are available in all areas. Providers may have more or fewer plans than advertised, depending on your location. Make sure you reach out to each ISP near you to learn what offerings exist in your ZIP code.
When it comes to the Internet, faster is usually better — but not always. With multiple people and devices accessing the Internet simultaneously, busy homes need speeds that can handle heavy traffic. A single person, on the other hand, might be satisfied with significantly less speed. If you’re not sure how much speed you need, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a guide to help you figure it out. You can also use an online speed test to see what speeds you are currently getting from your provider.
Today, XFINITY has some astoundingly fast options. In certain areas, the company offers downstream speeds up to 2 Gbps as part of their Gigabit Pro plans. However, XFINITY’s lower tier options — ranging between 10 and 75 Mbps — are likely more cost-effective for normal Internet users.
Cox and Windstream have plans available for up to 100 Mbps, but again, the availability of those speeds may be limited based on location. Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink provide speeds between 40 and 50 Mbps, which is plenty fast for most standard Internet activities.
It’s no surprise that the bottom line for choosing an ISP is often how much it’s going to cost every month. Internet plans vary widely, ranging from as little as $15 to over $200 per month. Factors that impact monthly costs include the type of service, speeds, and whether or not the service is combined in a bundle for a discounted rate. First-time customers also often have access to better prices than those available to people who already have an account.
Most providers offer an introductory package at a reasonable price, usually starting at close to $20 per month. Time Warner offers one of the cheapest standard plans for just $15 per month. CenturyLink and Frontier both have Internet packages that start around $20 per month. XFINITY, Charter Spectrum, and Cox all start their basic stand-alone Internet plans between $30 and $45 for monthly service. Some of the most expensive plans on the market are from XFINITY, which has fast options available in limited areas for as much as $300 per month.
Other typical plans across most fiber, cable, and DSL providers range from $30 to $80 per month, depending on the services included. Time Warner, for instance, has 16 different cable Internet package options that range from the aforementioned stand-alone Internet for $15 per month to a bundle with over 200 cable channels, phone service, and Internet downstream speeds up to 50 Mbps for around $130 each month.
When it comes to price, the many variables of location, speed, and bundling can make a big difference. It’s smart to shop around and even check with your current provider to see if they will offer you a break to stay with them instead of losing you to a competitor. If you do sign up for an introductory rate, make sure to pay attention to when the deal expires so you can follow up and ask for an extension or find out what other offers you might be able to tap into.
Customer Support and Reliability
It doesn’t matter if you found the best deal or the fastest speeds if the provider isn’t reliable. Equally important is the availability of support when something goes wrong.
Most ISPs provide 24-hour support available via phone, email, or online chat. AT&T offers a fee-based service that guarantees personalized service with no wait to customers who select that option. XFINITY and Cox both offer live chat, as well as online troubleshooting guides. Time Warner has extensive online support tools, too.
In rare instances, a technician may need to be dispatched to your home to assist with a technical problem. Most providers have qualified technicians available in all areas where their services are offered, but it’s a good idea to check before signing any contracts.
In regard to connection reliability, XFINITY, Time Warner, and AT&T have all performed well on third-party tests. These companies experience limited downtime and experienced speeds are generally close to what is advertised.
If you’re in a fairly rural area, wired connections may not reliably reach your home. In that case, you may want to consider a satellite Internet connection. Though costlier than most traditional wired connections, HughesNet is one of the most reliable satellite ISPs — as long as you can access the southern sky, you should be able to connect.
It can pay to do your homework when it comes to Internet service. As you shop around, consider the speeds that you need, the possibility of bundling with other services like TV and phone, and the price you’re willing to pay. Remember that new customers are usually able to take advantage of introductory rates or special discounts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a deal if you’re a long-term customer.
It’s time to stop thinking about getting a better Internet deal, and start finding one. Use this information to help you secure an Internet deal that keeps you online without breaking the bank.
*Pricing and speeds are current as of writing. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas. Despite having the reputation as one of the most tech-savvy states in the nation, California’s average Internet speed is only the 18th fastest out of the 50 states. How is it that the home to Apple, Google, Hulu, and countless other digital leaders isn’t also one of the nation’s leading states in connectivity?
One group thinks it knows the answer. The Bay Area Council Economic Institute (BACEI) describes itself as a “partnership of business with labor, government, higher education, and philanthropy that works to support the economic vitality and competitiveness of the Bay Area and California.” In a recent report, “21st Century Infrastructure: Keeping California Connected, Powered, and Competitive,” the group claims that it’s a focus on the past that’s holding California back.
It Got Us This Far, But…
BACEI credits California’s current economic and technological successes to a half-century of investing infrastructure including universities, highways, public utilities, and telecommunications. That infrastructure paved the way for success, the group says, but future infrastructure needs will be different, and California’s regulatory environment is suited to building the last century’s infrastructure, not the next century’s.
California, like the rest of the nation, trails many other nations in broadband infrastructure, and predicts future data needs will overwhelm California’s current networking capacity. In particular, BACEI points to the Internet of Things (IoT), a “tsunami” of applications, and the energy industry as three of the near future’s biggest data users. The Institute predicts a need for a connected “smart grid” to manage energy usage and delivery. Such a grid is already in operation in Chattanooga; by adding interconnected sensors to the electrical grid, the grid becomes stronger, but thousands of new sensors also increase data demands.
Bandwidth Over Speed
Though speed is important, BACEI notes that the huge volume of connected devices coming online over the next several decades makes bandwidth even more critical. According to the report, Internet traffic has expanded by a factor of 450,000 in the last 20 years, and the number of devices that share data from machine to machine will quadruple between now and 2018. More than 2 billion smart devices including industrial sensors, like those for the smart grid, and wearable technology will be online and communicating with each other, absent human intervention, by that time. Cloud storage will have increased 300 percent from 2013-2018.
One example used to illustrate the way in which California regulations focus on the past, rather than the future, is the phone system. The report notes that AT&T and Comcast have both invested in digital/Internet-based phone networks but, as they invest in that future technology, California law requires them to maintain traditional copper wire-based phone networks that will someday be obsolete, if they’re not already. Obviously, money used to keep up legacy networks can’t be used to invest in more advanced technology.
Anyone can point out problems, but to BACEI’s credit, they also propose solutions for improved future regulations. Some recommendations are focused on the energy industry, and aren’t especially relevant to connectivity, but three of these recommendations are directly related:
1. Plan for local network construction by considering the logistics of where to locate resources, and reduce the amount of red tape necessary to build new networks.
2. Eliminate regulations that hinder future progress by focusing on the past.
3. Create a state-level task force with input from state and municipal government, industry, network providers, regulators and public interest groups to examine future network infrastructure needs.
This task force will help further the first two recommendations.
BACEI also has recommendations for specific infrastructure worthy of investment. It points to fiber, of course, but also mentions next-generation, gigabit-capable copper and coaxial wire, mobile cell towers, and microcells/distributed antenna systems to boost wireless reception.
Benefits of Broadband
From a consumer’s perspective, better Internet means more speed. But there’s more to it than the ability to load cat pictures faster. BACEI says for society, better broadband means:
• A better economy: a 10 percent improvement in broadband penetration results in a 1.21 percent increase in gross domestic product.
• A better environment: smarter networks help reduce energy and water use and waste.
• A better education system: 50 percent of teachers say poor connectivity inhibits their lessons.
• A better state of public services: smart devices will mean improvements in everything from waste collection to traffic.
Embrace the Inevitable
As we’ve pointed out before, the IoT, increased bandwidth, and high-speed Internet connectivity are likely to create a future in which virtually everything in our lives will be connected in some way. This is the future that California has to plan for with better infrastructure. But because interconnected systems mean the potential for a problem with one system to affect another, regulations for that new infrastructure need to offer freedoms, but also safeguards.
Photo Credit: Wendell/Flikr Every quarter, cloud service provider Akamai releases its State of the Internet report, providing a global online security, access, and speed. The report provides a detailed state-by-state look at, well, the state of broadband speed and access in the U.S. In the fourth quarter of 2014, there’s some good news for U.S. Internet users, but it’s far from all good news.
We Have a Need for Speed. Seriously.
The report measures speed in two different ways: by average connection speed, and peak connection speed. Using the former metric, the world leader is South Korea, at 22.2 Mbps. The bronze and silver medals go to Hong Kong’s 16.8 Mbps and Japan’s 15.2 Mbps. Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Latvia, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Finland round out the top 10; the U.S. comes in 16th, at 11.1 Mbps, which is at least 15 percent faster year-over-year (YoY) compared to Q4 2013.
Measured by average peak connection speed, Hong Kong leaps to the lead with 87.7 Mbps connectivity. Singapore is second at 84.0 Mbps, and South Korea comes in third at 75.4 Mbps. Japan, Romania, Taiwan, Uruguay, Qatar, Israel, and Latvia complete the top 10. The U.S.’s 49.4 Mbps is only good enough for 22nd in the world in this metric and a 16 percent YoY increase.
Unsurprisingly, many of the countries that rank near the top for total speed also rank near the top for high-speed penetration. In terms of population with access to 10 Mbps connections or faster, South Korea is tops, with 79 percent adoption. Hong Kong and Switzerland are next, with 60 percent and 56 percent adoption, respectively. Japan, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, Latvia, Bulgaria and Denmark are fourth through tenth, in that order.
The U.S. is 17th worldwide in broadband adoption, with 39 percent of us with 10 Mbps or more—up 20 percent YoY. The number of households above 4 Mbps, the old standard for broadband speed, is 74 percent—up a modest 1.7 percent YoY.
The State of the States
Virginia is for Internet lovers: it wins the race with a 17.7 Mbps average connection speed. A 33 percent jump in speed, to 16.4 Mbps, boosts Delaware into second, and Washington, D.C.—which the report counts as a state—and its 14.4 Mbps are third. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, Oregon, North Dakota, and new York finish out spots four to ten.
If we’re talking about average peak connection speeds, then the results change just a bit. Delaware’s huge 43 percent increase in speed leapfrogs Virginia to take the top spot with a 75.4 Mbps average peak. Virginia is close, with 73.5 Mbps, and D.C. maintains its third place with a 65.9 Mbps average peak speed. In fourth through tenth are Massachusetts, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Utah, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Full state-by-state results show that Ohio and Washington were the only states to actually slow down from 2013 to 2014. Ohio’s average connection speed in that state dropped from 8.0 Mbps to 6.3 Mbps YoY, while Washington’s fell from 11.5 Mbps to 10.1.
Are You Doing Your Part?
If you’re a little disappointed the U.S. isn’t doing better compared to the rest of the world, you can do something about it. If your connection is slower than the U.S. average, you can help improve our ranking by signing up for a faster plan. Even if you’re already beating the national average, you’ll enjoy a faster plan enough to make the upgrade worth it. It’s okay if you’re only upgrading for yourself, and not the good of our national reputation—we won’t tell.
Photo Credit: Justgrimes/Flikr Online gaming is one of the most demanding activities that your Internet connection can experience. On a par with streaming video, gameplay is impacted by every possible step from you to the server. That’s not a big problem if you’re playing turn-based and / or low resolution games, but most of today’s games are fast-paced and graphics-intensive — and a troubled connection can spell doom for you and your teammates.
The Main Focus
The two most important ISP issues are bandwidth and latency. Bandwidth is the well-known “speed” rating that your ISP tempts you with. Try to get used to NOT thinking of bandwidth as speed, but as capacity (after all, we don’t call it “fastband”, we call it broadband). Bandwidth measures how much data can be sent “down the pipe” at once. The difference between a fiber ISP and cable / DSL is the difference between a fireman’s hose and a cocktail straw.
All things being equal, higher bandwidth is better. Cable networks can be subject to congestion when too many people are online at once. DSL is actually ADSL, and the A stands for “asynchronous”, meaning that your upload bandwidth is MUCH smaller than your download (and remember, gaming is a two-way street). Both types rely on copper wire, which is subject to electromagnetic disturbance, corrosion, and other kinds of signal degradation to which fiber is immune. And in all cases, there will be conditions that are almost completely out of your control, such as the number of junctions, nodes, and “hops” along the way.
Bandwidth is very important to gaming, especially where high-res graphics are concerned, but it’s not the whole story by a long shot. It’s very possible to get improved performance by switching from a higher-bandwidth ISP to a “cleaner” and more direct lower-bandwidth connection.
Latency’s Gaming Impact
Gamers depend just as much — maybe more — on latency. Unlike bandwidth, latency really is speed. It’s a measure of the delay that you experience between hitting a button and getting a response. More technically speaking (at least relatively), it’s the time that it takes for the signal to travel from your home to the server. It’s measured in milliseconds, but don’t be fooled — it doesn’t really take too many milliseconds before you start to “feel” a certain sluggishness in response. When it’s enough to affect gameplay for you and your teammates, it’s called “lag.” Typically, the weakest link in the lag chain slows down the experience for everyone around them — and you know what happens to the weakest link. Goodbye.
This latency is why satellite ISPs are virtually useless for gaming despite offering more than enough bandwidth. Each trip from you to the server has to travel an average of 70,000km (44,000 miles) from you to the satellite in orbit, back down to the ISP’s receiver, and from there to the game host server — and then back to you along the same route. And that’s not even counting the typically inefficient coaxial cable from your PC to the dish. Satellite ISP generally off at least 500 milliseconds of latency, which is at least half a second between pressing a button and getting the intended response. And at least another half a second before you hear the dismayed cries of your teammates.
It May Not Be Your ISP’s Fault
Before you point your finger at the ISP, examine your non-Internet connections. Traveling through your controls and into your PC, your gaming encounters bandwidth barriers and processing bottlenecks from the motherboard, CPU, GPU, storage drives, memory sticks, and the connections to your USB and Ethernet ports. Plus, the path to your modem and router, especially with a wireless network, can add unnecessary obstacles in getting the most from your Internet connection. And that’s not even considering the countless software and operating system variables.
Bottom line: before you begin to blame your ISP for poor gaming performance, make sure that your hardware and software is up to snuff. A thorough guide is beyond the scope of this article, but one extremely helpful resource that I’ve found is Tweak Guides.com, which has many helpful guides to game-specific as well as system-wide optimizations.
Satellite Versus Dial-Up
You’re actually better off with dial-up than you are with satellite. A good dial-up connection can offer an average of 150ms latency, which is frankly still horrible for gaming but can work under certain circumstances. There’s still a healthy contingent of online players who prefer games such as Ultima Online and the original EverQuest, not to mention less graphically-intensive games from the earlier days of MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons, what we old-timers used to call MMORPGSs). Newer casual games or turn-based games (such as Atlantica Online or the quirky Kingdom of Loathing) have no significant latency requirement, so dial-up or even satellite may be sufficient.
But for serious gameplay, you’ll be looking at broadband: cable, DSL, and fiber. Cable and DSL are, as usual, broadly comparable, both offering ideal-world latencies in the 10-20 millisecond range. For once, fiber doesn’t provide a clear benefit; latency in fiber is comparable to DSL and cable. “But doesn’t it travel at the speed of light?” you ask. Well, yes… but it also travels with a little less “concentration” or “focus” than electrical.signals over copper wire, due to the nature of light refraction within the fiber “wire.” Not to mention that a fiber signal usually has to jump to good old copper wire for that “last mile” to your PC.
Ask The Audience
My advice is to listen to the reviews and anecdotal experiences of others who have tried broadband solutions in your local area, which is why (shameless self-promotion to follow) a site like ours is so valuable.
I hate to take the easy way out, but there really is no substitute for personally trying the different ISPs in your area to see which one provides the best gaming experience. Between DSL, cable, and fiber, you’re certain to find the best combination of high bandwidth and low latency that will eliminate the lag, keeping you (and your teammates) playing at peak performance levels.