What factors should be taken into account when looking for the best UK internet package for online gaming? With a very competitive market and at least half a dozen widely available providers there is a lot of choice and it can sometimes be difficult to separate out all the advertised features to see what an online gamer actually needs.
First of all we need to dispel a myth that “faster” in the sense of pure bandwidth (download and upload speeds) is what is most important solely for gaming. What is far more important is the reliability and stability of the connection and this relies on latency and other factors.
This is the most crucial factor gamers need to take into account for their internet, although bandwidth does come into the picture if the connection is being used for other things.
It is therefore important to take several factors into account when deciding what the best package is to go for. Firstly, a fibre optic package is definitely preferable to the older style cable modem broadband in that it delivers a much better connection in terms of latency and bandwidth.
Fibre optic internet from at least one provider is available pretty much universally across the whole of the UK now, so gamers still on cable broadband should think about upgrading.
Other factors should also be taken into account; here is a quick checklist:
- If you are using your connection to upload, stream and host gaming sessions then a certain amount of bandwidth is important – look for a package with better upload speeds.
- Gamers who like to download their games digitally should look for a package with good download speeds. This also helps if you play games which require a lot of patches, updates and DLC.
- If you need the connection for other things like YouTube or Netflix streaming or downloading, or you live in a house where there are other people doing these things, then you will need a higher bandwidth package, even if your gaming itself doesn’t use much.
In general, BT usually has the best internet for gaming in terms of the stability and reliability of the connection. Virgin Media have very high download speeds but upload speeds are less impressive. Sky and TalkTalk also offer decent packages for gamers that are cheaper.
Let’s look at the issue in more detail now – what gamers need from their internet package, the different packages available, and suggestions as the the best one to go for in different circumstances.
Gaming Alone Does Not Use That Much Bandwidth
We want to emphasize this point when we talk about online gaming, since it is a trap many people fall into when they talk about how “fast” their internet is. They usually mean in terms of bandwidth – download and upload speeds – but this is not the most crucial factor for smooth online gaming.
Rather it is the latency of the connection that determines whether we avoid lag, the most annoying and common problem for online gamers. Bandwidth determines how much traffic can be sent, latency determines how fast this traffic can be sent, and it is the latter which is most important for online gaming. See our article Is Latency or Bandwidth More Important for Gaming? for more on this.
Online gaming actually does not tend to use that much bandwidth, although there is a little variability between games and some use more than others. Online gaming is not going to be throttling your bandwidth anywhere near to the extent that streaming and downloading will for example.
Just for pure gaming alone, then a few mbps download and perhaps 1mbps upload (maybe even less) are almost always plenty enough bandwidth to game comfortably. If you are hosting or streaming or doing other things then bandwidth needs do go up. See this video on QoS which demonstrates that even deliberately restricting one’s broadband connection to a few mbps download stills allows you to play comfortably online.
So when we are looking at which ISP to go for for a good gaming package, we are not necessarily just looking for headline download and upload speeds that the ISPs love to bombard us with. It may or may not be important depending on what else our connection is going to be used for. Let’s look in more detail at a couple of different scenarios.
If You Just Use Your Internet for Gaming – Basic Fibre Package
If you are just using your internet for gaming alone, without too much session hosting, streaming or uploading, then in reality you are probably not going to need masses of bandwidth. An entry level fibre package from any of the main providers is going to give you more than enough download or upload speeds for online gaming.
These packages will also suit you for any purpose if you live alone or perhaps even just a few people in a flat or house. The download speeds on even these packages tend to be 30+ megabits per second, which can easily handle gaming and streaming for up to a couple of people. The upload speeds tend to 5-10mbps which again is plenty enough for gaming and minor uploading.
We have embedded a table of these basic fibre optic packages from the main UK providers below. This is definitely the best option for some more basic and lighter users since there is no point in forking out for bandwidth you don’t need.
UK Entry Level Fibre Broadband Packages – Click to View
|Provider||Package||Average Download/Upload Speed (mbps)||Monthly Data Usage||Monthly Price (Initial Contract Term)||Rising To (After Initial Contract):||Total Setup Costs (Install/Activation/Router)|
|BT||Superfast Fibre Essential||36/9||30GB||£26.99 (18 months)||£37.99||£59.99|
|Virgin Media||VIVID 50||54/3||Unlimited||£35 (12 months)||£42||£60|
|Sky||Sky Fibre Unlimited||36/9||Unlimited||£25 (18 months)||£38.99||£59.95|
|Talk Talk||Faster Fibre Broadband||38/9||Unlimited||£24.00 (24 months)||£36.00||£30|
|Now Broadband||Fab Fibre||36/9||Unlimited||£24 (12 months)||£43.99||£59.99|
|Plusnet||Unlimited Fibre Broadband||36/9||Unlimited||£23.99 (18 months)||£35||£49.99|
As you can see there are some great deals available. The market is very competitive at the moment and providers are regularly cutting the prices even lower and sometimes waiving or reducing installation and activation costs so it is always worth checking out each provider to see what deal you can get.
The bottom four providers all use BT’s lines so if BT is available at your property, then so should these providers, who by and large have the cheapest packages. If BT cabling and/or wall sockets are already installed at your property then this may also reduce the installation and activation costs required, though this varies case to case.
Depending on your bandwidth demands, you may not need all that fast an internet connection for gaming alone
For High Internet Use Houses and Streaming and Downloading – Faster Fibre Packages
If you live in a bigger household with more internet users doing more things, like streaming Netflix, Youtube or downloading a lot, then you will probably need a faster fibre package to handle all these demands as well as the gaming traffic efficiently.
Higher upload speeds on these packages are also useful for gamers who like to host online lobbies a lot or livestream or upload to Twitch or YouTube. Higher download speeds will help download games, patches and DLC quicker and also leave more bandwidth to share out if you have more than a couple of people in your house.
Here are a list of some of the faster fibre packages offered by the same six providers; basically the next package up from the ones listed above for each ISP. In some cases they are not massively more expensive than the entry level packages and so may be the better option.
UK Faster Fibre Broadband Packages – click to view
|Provider||Package||Average Download/Upload Speed (mbps)||Monthly Data Usage||Monthly Price (Initial Contract Term)||Rising to (After Initial Contract)||Total Setup Costs (Install/Activation/Router)|
|BT||Superfast Fibre 2||67/18||Unlimited||£39.99 (18 months)||£59.99||£59.99|
|Virgin Media||Vivid 100||108/6||Unlimited||£40 (12 months)||£47||£60|
|Virgin Media||Vivid 350||362/6||Unlimited||£42 (12 months)||£57||£60|
|Talk Talk||Faster Fibre Speed Boost||63/17||Unlimited||£28.50 (18 months)||£38.50||£39.95|
|Now Broadband||Super Fibre||63/18||Unlimited||£30 (12 months)||£43.99||£9.99|
|Plusnet||Unlimited Fibre Extra||66/18||Unlimited||£28.99 (18 months)||£39.98||£49.99|
We should also emphasize that in busier houses with more internet users at peak hours, it is important for gamers to configure their home network such that traffic is managed properly in order to reduce the possibility of latency or lag.
Just having pure bandwidth alone does not guarantee that you will avoid lagging, for the reasons we mentioned above but also because the router needs to be told to process gaming traffic first, which is where settings like QoS come in. See below for some related articles on how configure router settings for optimal connectivity for gaming.
Are Certain Providers More Reliable?
ISPs in the UK do tend to fixate purely on download and upload speeds in the way they advertise their packages to customers. They have recently been required to clarify the claims they make by only advertising average speeds customers can expect to get at peak times and not theoretical maximums they will rarely or never actually achieve. See our article on this for more details.
However headline speeds are not everything. For example, you may notice that Virgin Media deliver very fast download speeds on their packages but not particularly great upload speeds, even on the best packages. This may not be so good for gamers who like to stream to Twitch or upload videos of gameplay to YouTube.
The other providers tend to have their speeds closer together, with lower download speeds but higher upload speeds, which may be the better option for gamers using their upload bandwidth more than their download (for hosting, streaming, uploading).
In terms of reliability then experiences do vary but it is the opinion of this writer and others that BT offer a more reliable and solid connection than Virgin Media, having used both at several properties. They may not have quite the blazing fast download speeds of Virgin Media but they tend to deliver a more consistent connection with less problems of dropping out or inconsistent speeds.
A bugbear this blog also has with Virgin Media is that their routers are sometimes not particularly friendly with Powerline Adapters and other home networking products which are designed to strengthen one’s connection if at distance from the router and prevent gamers from having to rely on Wi-Fi. This is annoying and hopefully something they can remedy. BT routers have always worked fine with Powerline Adapters in our experience.
This is merely anecdotal evidence though and if you are looking for hard evidence in terms of testing, then Ofcom’s 2016 report into home broadband performance ranks each provider on gaming relevant metrics, such as latency and packet loss. The report is a little complex to digest so this article is a good resource which pulls the pertinent facts out of it.
Basically, in this report the Sky Fibre Max and Plusnet packages both came out top in terms of metrics relevant to gaming, such as latency and packet loss. They both use BT lines to deliver their service and seeing as these packages are also some of the best value ones, these two companies may be a good direction to go in for keen online gamers.
Admittedly this report was a few years ago now and there are so many variables in networking that Ofcom may get completely different results were they to do the same tests today. However in general we do consider all the packages from the bottom four providers in the tables (Sky, Plusnet, Now Broadband and TalkTalk) to be excellent value with generally low setup costs as well.
A Fibre to the Home Connection Can Further Reduce Latency
A new type of internet connection, known as Fibre to the Home/Premises/Building (FTTH/P/B) is also becoming more available in the UK. This is where the connection is wired as fibre optic all the way to a customer’s residence, as opposed the standard fibre we mentioned above where it is usually fibre to a nearby street cabinet or exchange and then copper the rest of the way.
Theoretically this should not impact latency that much in many cases. After all, what difference should having fibre for the last couple of hundred feet or yards instead copper really make to latency in the grand scheme of things? Over this distance copper and fibre should ideally transmit at the same speed.
However, anecdotally, it appears that FTTH connections do indeed provide lower latency. See here for example for some reviews of the Hyperoptic FTTH service, where some people report ridiculously low ping times of under 5 milliseconds within the UK and under 20 milliseconds to Western Europe. These are hugely impressive latency times and even conventional fibre will struggle to get near this.
Availability of FTTH in the UK is not massive at the moment but is slowly growing. Our number one recommended provider is Hyperoptic, who are currently active in over 30 major UK cities and have an excellent rating on Trustpilot.
Their full FTTH packages are superb value for money, with excellent monthly prices and regular flash deals where their normal (admittedly expensive) installation costs of £240 are waived and reduced to zero. Their middle package is especially ideal for gamers wanting to upload, stream and host a lot, with symmetrical speeds of 150 megabits per second.
It is well worth checking their site out to see about availability in your area and register interest. Their twitter page will also keep you up to date on their latest flash deals. Here is a summary of their main packages:
Hyperoptic Packages – Quick Summary
|Service||Package 1 - Speeds 30/1mbps||Package 2 - Speeds 150/150mbps||Package 3 - Speeds 1000/1000mbps||Rising to (After Year 1)||Unfront Costs|
|Residential - Broadband Only||£19 per month (First Year)||£29 per month (First Year)||£49 per month (First Year)||£22, £35 and £60 per month||£240*|
|Residential - Broadband and Phone||£21 per month (First Year)||£31 per month (FIrst Year)||£51 per month (First Year)||£25, £38 and £63 per month||£240*|
|Business - Broadband Only - 12 month contract||£50 per month plus VAT||£100 per month plus VAT||£300 per month plus VAT||Cheaper prices available on 36 month contract||£300 plus VAT|
|Business - Broadband and Phone - 12 month contract||£60 per month plus VAT||£110 per month plus VAT||£310 per month plus VAT||Cheaper prices available on 36 month contract||£300 plus VAT|
*Hyperoptic are currently available in the following cities – Greater London, Basildon, Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Preston, Reading, Reigate, Sheffield, Slough, Southamption, Southend-on-Sea, Warrington, Watford, Woking. Their coverage is rapidly growing though and is set to hit 50 cities by the mid 2019 so it is always worth checking their site for availability in your area.
*Hyperoptic have flash deals – usually a couple of times a year – where they waive the activation and installation costs, meaning you can get online for your first month’s payment only. We will try to provide updates on these flash deals – see our Twitter page for more details.
For more information about FTTH internet and a more in depth overview of the UK providers, see our article on FTTH for Gaming.