Most internet users need to get sufficient download speed for applications like video streaming. However, gamers also need to focus on the upload speeds offered by potential internet service providers (ISPs). This is because the data traffic from the user to the central server is greater in gaming than typical entertainment systems that just require the customer to receive data.
Games can be won and lost by the quality of the internet that each player enjoys. Outages are obvious reasons for a star player to suddenly perform badly. However, the speed with which a response gets registered in a game is also important in situations where a winner can become a loser in just a split second.
When looking for a good internet service, gamers need to prioritize download speed, upload speed, and reliability. In this roundup, we look at the major internet service providers available in the USA and work out which are the best for online gaming.
Here is our list of the best internet services for gaming:
- Charter Spectrum
- Verizon Fios
- AT&T Fiber
- Frontier Fios
- AT&T IPBB
Although there are plenty of small, specialist, and local internet providers, when looking for reliability, it is better to stick with the big companies. They have the resources to cover for unexpected equipment failure and they are less likely to go out of business. The national players in the market offer the best deals for internet gaming.
One key service element to watch out for when shopping for an ISP for gaming is the data cap. This is a limit on the amount of data that your connection will carry in a month. Many ISPs in the USA operate data caps. However, they are usually set at the level of 1 Terabyte (1 TB).
The data cap applies to an accumulation of all the data that passes in both directions. So it includes uploaded data as well as downloads. In regular circumstances, upload data throughput is negligible. However, gamers who use coms and those that run private games servers will need to pay attention to upload transfer volumes as well.
A limit of 1 TB doesn’t usually present problems to the average family and if you are a recreational player, then you probably won’t hit a 1 TB data limit. However, if you are online gaming all of the time then that limit could hurt. Different ISPs have different policies over how they deal with those who exceed the cap. Some ISPs reduce the download speed for the rest of the month. However, most ISPs allow continued access at the same speed but charge for extra data. If you are an avid online game player, those overage charges can really pile up.
Internet connection types for gaming
There are three internet delivery types to focus on when looking for a good ISP for gaming. These are:
Cable offers the best playoff between speed and budget. Cable TV providers have very good networks laid all across the country. In most cases, the cable configuration used for TV systems is what’s called a hybrid fiber-coaxial network (HFC). This links each home to a local exchange with a coaxial cable and then fiber-optic cable from the exchange to the internet access point. Depending on the location of the local exchange, some homes have an almost entire fiber link at a much lower price than charged for pure fiber internet.
For those who don’t have budgetary constraints, then a fiber internet package is by far the best option. Fiber networks are the fastest communication systems available and they experience a lot less interference than traditional cable types.
Not everyone can get cable or fiber. In those cases, DSL is the best option. In DSL systems, the internet connection is carried over telephone wires. Most homes in the United States are connected to a telephone network or are close to a wire, which makes connecting relatively easy. DSL offers the cheapest connections and the telephone companies that run these services have a lot of experience in running the network, which means that they are very reliable.
Telephone wires are more vulnerable to environmental interference than fiber-optics or coaxial cable. However, they are far more reliable than wireless systems.
The two internet delivery types that don’t support gaming very well are fixed wireless and satellite. These two systems a technologically innovative, but they also tend to be less reliable than wired networks and they just can’t deliver the speeds of cable, fiber, and DSL.
Best Cable Internet Service for Gaming
Cable internet is your best bet for a good service for gaming. Xfinity provides the fastest download and speeds available to the general public in the USA. That company is by far your best bet and it is also the USA’s largest cable network, which means it is more likely to be available in your area. However, the company isn’t available everywhere, which is why we have added RCN and Charter Spectrum to our list of recommended ISPs for gaming.
- Charter Spectrum
The availability of cable TV networks in the USA is problematic because in many areas only one company is allowed to operate. RCN is a little different because it competes in each of its operating locations. Not every location in the USA is covered by these three cable providers and your local service might not be good enough.
Best Fiber Internet Service for Gaming
Xfinity is unusual in that it offers faster speeds than even the leading fiber internet providers can supply. However, if you can’t get Xfinity, then your next best option for top speeds and reliability lies with fiber internet. The top three fiber internet providers in the USA are:
- Verizon Fios
- AT&T Fiber
- Frontier Fios
Again, availability could be a problem. Fiber networks are extremely expensive to set up and that cost can only be recovered in densely populated areas where a large number of customers can be served by shorter stretches of cable.
Best DSL Internet for Gaming
DSL is the most widely available internet delivery system and DSL providers are the largest ISPs in the country. EarthLink is the biggest DSL provider in the country. However, the company has had some difficult years recently, which is why we put AT&T at the top of our list of the best DSL internet providers for gaming.
- AT&T IPBB
Realistically, DSL is your last chance of getting a good internet connection for playing games online. Some rural properties aren’t accessible to a telephone network and so won’t be able to get DSL. Many rural locations don’t even get good speeds from DSL because the quality of service that even the best ISPs can offer over telephone lines is very variable.
The top deal offered by Xfinity is called Gigabit Pro. It delivers speeds of 2 Gigabits per second (Gbps). A Gigabit is 1000 times a Megabit. Not only does this offer give the highest download speed available, but it also includes the highest upload speed in the industry – also 2 Gbps.
The options available to gamers with the Gigabit pro service are exceptional. Games who run their own private server and invite in other players will have no performance problems with this service. It is possible to watch Twitch, play a live game, record that game and stream it on other channels, plus maintain voice communications with all of your team, all simultaneously, without any performance impairment.
There are two problems that you will face with this plan. First, it is expensive, and second, it isn’t available everywhere. For one thing, Xfinity doesn’t operate in every part of the USA, although it is the largest cable TV network in the country. Another issue is that Xfinity doesn’t offer the Gigabit Pro package everywhere that it operates.
The next plan down from Gigabit Pro is the Gigabit package. This offers a download speed of 1 Gbps and an upload speed of 25 Mbps. That lower upload speed is a big drop from the top plan. However, Xfinity doesn’t even offer that plan everywhere.
See the full review of Xfinity here.
RCN’s top plan offers a download speed of 1 Gbps and an upload speed of 20 Mbps. Two other great features of the Internet Gig plan are that there is no data cap and the company doesn’t impose contracts, so no early termination fees. RCN’s deal comes at a very low price that beats all competition.
The only problem with RCN is that it only operates in six big cities: Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, Lehigh Valley, New York, and Philadelphia.
See the full review of RCN here.
Charter Spectrum Features
Charter Communications operates its TV and internet services under the Spectrum brand name. The company operates in 44 states, so it is much more widely available than RCN. The top plan available from Spectrum offers a download speed of 1 Gbps and an upload speed of 35 Mbps. That upload speed beats the top RCN plan, but the Spectrum Giga service costs more than double the monthly price of the equivalent RCN plan.
Big pluses with the Spectrum service is that the company doesn’t require customers to sign contracts with minimum service periods and there are no data caps. Charter Spectrum consistently beats its advertised speeds. It offers a reliable service and has physical stores around its operating area, so you can get direct face-to-face assistance if things go wrong.
See the full review of Charter Spectrum here.
Verizon Fios Features
The best ISP in the fiber internet category is Verizon Fios. This company has the highest customer satisfaction rating in the industry and usually exceeds its advertised speeds. Verizon has the largest fiber-optic network in the USA and has an excellent reputation for reliability.
The top plan for residential users that Verizon Fios offers is its Better Everything plan. This gives a download speed of 1 Gbps and an upload speed to match. The company uses “1 Gbps” as a shorthand for this top speed. In reality, it is 940 Mbps download and 880 Mbps upload.
The price of the Better Everything plan sits comfortably within the price spectrum of cable internet providers. For example, it is cheaper than the Charter Spectrum Giga plan. The price is fixed for three years. However, that period does not represent a contract and the service can be terminated at any time. The company will even compensate new customers who have to pay early termination fees to get out of their existing contracts. Verizon Fios plans do not have data caps.
See the full review of Verizon Fios here.
AT&T Fiber Features
AT&T Fiber offers a 1 Gbps service that has the same download and upload speeds. This service has no data cap, which makes it a great option for gamers. The AT&T network is not as large as that of Verizon Fios, but the two networks do not have the same geographical footprint, so if you can’t get Verizon, try for AT&T Fiber.
The AT&T Fiber service is cheaper than Verizon Fios for the first year but then gets more expensive. Like Verizon Fios, AT&T has an excellent reputation for reliability and keeping its speed promises.
See the full review of AT&T here.
Frontier Fios Features
Frontier Communications bought its fiber-optic network from Verizon. It is the fourth-largest fiber internet provider in the United States. Having been built by Verizon, the Frontier Fios network is very similar in characteristics to Verizon Fios. So, if you can’t get Verizon Fios in your area, this system is a good bet.
The top plan from Frontier is the Fios Gig plan. This has the same speeds as Verizon Fios: 940 Mbps for download and 880 Mbps for upload. Frontier doesn’t impose data caps and its services are price guarantees rather than lock-in periods. However, the company charges an administration fee to anyone who wishes to terminate their contract.
See the full review of Frontier Fios here.
AT&T IPBB Features
AT&T calls its DSL service “IPBB,” which stands for “IP backbone.” The top speed available over the telephone wires with AT&T is 100 Mbps. The AT&T Internet 100 plan actually only commits to a download speed of 80 to 100 Mbps. However, AT&T is known to keep its speed promises and often exceeds them. The upload speed on this plan is 12 to 20 Mbps.
The quality of the AT&T telephone network varies greatly from location to location, which is why the company cannot guarantee that every customer of its Internet 100 plan will get that top speed. Another problem is that the company doesn’t offer that top DSL plan everywhere it operates. In some parts of the country, the best AT&T can offer is its Basic 5 plan, which gives a top download speed of 5 Mbps and an upload speed of 1 Mbps. However, even that plan is worse in some places, reaching only 3 Mbps for download and 0.6 Mbps for upload.
So, AT&T IPBB is only the best internet service for gamers in some parts of the country. The data cap on this plan is 1 TB. As you will be operating at slower speeds than the Gigabit plans offered by cable and fiber services, that throughput limit will be difficult to hit. AT&T offers its services with contracts that bring down the subscription price of the Internet 100 plan by $10 per month.
See the full review of AT&T here.
EarthLink is the biggest internet provider in the USA and it operates over telephone wires. Its customer satisfaction ratings are not as high as those of AT&T and the company has been detected failing its speed promises. However, given its very large operating area, EarthLink may offer your best chance of getting decent internet service.
The top plan offered by EarthLink over telephone wires is its Hyperlink 100 offer. This comes with a one-year contract that has severe early termination fees of up to $200. There is no data cap with this plan. Check the actual speeds you get with this service because EarthLink has been known to underperform. The website for the service headlines a speed of 100 Mbps download but doesn’t explain its upload speeds. The download speed declaration comes with a caveat that the top speed might not always be delivered and might not be available everywhere.
See the full review of Earthlink here.
The top speed available from CenturyLink’s DSL division is 100 Mbps. As with the service of Earthlink, CenturyLink doesn’t guarantee that top speed and the service isn’t available everywhere. There is no mention of the upload speed offered with the 100 Mbps plan.
The company doesn’t impose contracts, but it does guarantee a “price for life.” So, once you sign up for a plan, you do not have to worry about the price increasing.
See the full review of CenturyLink here.
What Mbps do I need for gaming?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) produces a helpful guide on the download speed needed for various activities, called the Broadband Speed Guide. This guide recommends 3 Mbps for a connected games console and 4 Mbps for a multi-player game. This is surprisingly low and maybe doesn’t represent the load of high-quality graphics games.
Most gamers recommend a 100 Mbps service because a serious team player also needs streaming and live coms services to be running concurrently.
How do I make my internet better for gaming?
The quality of your modem and the router that you have to circulate the internet around your home can seriously slow down your connection to an online game server.
Wi-Fi routers are great for getting the internet around the house, but a wireless connection is a lot slower than a cable link. If at all possible. Get the internet connection point in your home close to the location of your game console. Most Wi-Fi routers and hubs also have connection jacks, so you can plug your console directly into the hub with a cable while still making Wi-Fi available for the rest of the house.
You will get a better response time through a games console than those who play games through a PC or Mac.
Running a private games server
Upload speeds are particularly important to those who run private games servers. It is not exceptional today for a gamer to let others access their games consoles or even buy a specialist server to run a multi-player game without needing to enter an online platform.
When a home console serves outside players, it will be sending out a lot of data. The fiber internet deals that offer as much upload speed as download speed are ideal for the modern player with a home server.
Twitch lets you watch games tournaments live and also videos of past tournaments, illuminated with player commentary. Those who grant streaming access to others from their games servers and those who upload edited highlights will need a lot more upload data capabilities than gamers who just want an internet connection in order to play.
An upload speed of 25 Mbps should be enough for streaming a game out to others and will certainly be good enough to upload video files within a reasonable timeframe.
Team communication apps
Running coms alongside a live game in order to coordinate a team adds strain to the internet connection and requires that you have good upload capacity as well as download speeds. Group chat needs reliable internet service.
All of the ISPs on our list will provide adequate internet capacity to run Discord, Mumble, or TeamSpeak as well as connection to an online game live.
Choosing an ISP for gaming
Look out for periodic offers and bundle deals to get the price of your internet service down. All of the services on our list offer TV and telephone packages along with their internet services.
Gaming has specific needs from an internet service. The exact requirements for your home will depend on your specific gaming habits. However, you should find an iSP to suit you on our list of recommendations.