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With the whole world spending more time indoors, we have grown attached to our televisions and our gaming devices. We have isolated and quarantined so much that we are running out of shows to binge, and our combat and drifting skills are nearing top notch. By now I’m sure you’ve heard the frustrated groans of someone who just got killed because they were lagging, or because they’re dealing with repeated “error occurred” messages from Netflix.
Since it seems like we’ll have more lockdowns in the next few months due to COVID, we thought it was best to put together a list of the best internet providers for streaming and gaming. Fast download and upload speeds are always important when looking for an internet provider, but low latency is key for streamers and gamers.
If you’ve read our guide on the Fastest Internet Providers, you won’t be surprised by the providers we listed below. Fast internet speeds and low latency go hand-in-hand.
While download and upload speeds are important for streaming and gaming, latency plays a bigger role. Latency is a measurement of how long it takes your devices to send and receive data. A fast download speed like 100 Mbps can seem painstakingly slow if you have high latency.
Whether it is streaming the latest episode of The Masked Singer or entering a battle royale in Fortnite, you want a connection that will give you nanosecond reaction timing (meaning it has low latency). This is where your internet connection comes into play. Simply put, fiber and cable are the best types of internet connections for streamers and gamers. Both are able to offer latency lower than 1 ms, which is ideal if you’re tired of your coworkers’ faces freezing in awkward positions during video calls.
Other internet connections, i.e. satellite, fixed wireless, and DSL internet, have higher latency due to having an outdated infrastructure or the way they send/receive data. In fact, wireless types of connections (like fixed wireless and satellite) have a higher latency than wired connections because of how long it takes data to get to and from your home and outer space.
Time and time again, Verizon Fios ranks in the top three for another one of our “best” lists. I expected Verizon Fios to earn first place since they’re also the fastest internet provider in the US. Each Verizon Fios plan is free of data caps and does not require contracts making it a no-brainer if you live within their coverage area. Most households would be satisfied with Verizon Fios’ starting plan which has speeds up to 200 Mbps for $39.99 a month.
RCN internet plans hit the most important checkboxes for streamers and gamers: no data caps, no contracts, fast download speeds, and low latency. On top of that, RCN is the lowest-priced provider on our list. You can get gigabit speeds for $49.99-54.99 a month depending on your location. However, RCN’s availability is even more limited than Verizon Fios, with coverage only reaching about six major cities/areas.
Besides their fast speeds and low latency, Cox makes themself a solid choice for streamers and gamers with their a la carte Elite Gamer plan. Say you’re playing Call of Duty: Warzone and another person is streaming Blacklist on Peacock. The Elite Gamer plan will route your gaming session around network traffic to lower your latency.
New customers can get the Cox Elite Gamer plan for free if they choose to rent the Cox Panoramic WiFi Gateway. If you use your own equipment, expect to pay an extra $6.99 a month for the Elite Gamer plan.
Coming in at fourth, Optimum’s average latency is almost twice as long as Verizon Fios, RCN, and Cox. Still, almost half a millisecond is exceptional if you’re tired of lagging out of a game or random pauses during your favorite show. You can find Optimum in similar areas as Verizon Fios. Optimum is the lower-priced option between the two, which makes them a better choice for the budget-conscious. But if you plan on using gaming or streaming as a side hustle, you’ll want Verizon Fios’ 100 percent fiber network. Optimum (like all the other cable providers on our list) only offers fiber internet speeds with the Gig Internet plan.
Xfinity is probably the most well-known provider on our list despite coming in the last place. Xfinity’s internet deals are some of the best in the industry with perks like a free streaming device and a voice remote. While Xfinity’s average latency made the cut, you’ll want one of their faster plans, with speeds ranging from up to 100-2000 Mbps. Expect to pay $34.99-299.95 for Xfinity’s best internet plans for streaming and gaming.
Streaming services and gaming servers have low-speed requirements compared to how much speed you need to have a stable connection. The key is that you have to take into account how many devices you’re streaming/gaming on. The table below breaks down the speed requirements by streaming type.
Technically speaking, you only need an internet plan with speeds up to 10 Mbps for any type of gaming or streaming. It’s unrealistic for most households to only use one device at a time, especially if each person has a smartphone and laptop. I recommend getting a plan with up to at least 100 Mbps if you have 3-5 devices connected to your network. Plans with that much speed normally have upload speeds up to 10 Mbps which would help keep your latency low. However, you’ll want more speed depending on the number of devices you have.
The data consumption for video streaming varies depending on the quality of the video source. Streaming in standard definition (SD) can use around 1 GB per hour; high-definition (HD) videos consume about 3 GB per hour, and 4K videos use a little more than 7 GB per hour. This can quickly add up if you’re a binge streamer or live with a few. If you streamed in HD for 12 hours a day, for 30 days, you’d use 1080 GB (or 1.08 TB).
Gaming is not as bad as one would think. Games like League of Legends only will consume about 45MB per hour. However, there are some like Destiny 2 that eat up to 300 MB per hour. Downloading online games is what eats up the most data for gamers. Some games, Call of Duty: Warzone specifically, are over 100 GB. If you download games frequently, you may want to consider an unlimited data plan.
Of the providers we mentioned above, Verizon Fios, RCN, and Optimum have unlimited data for all their internet plans. Don’t be discouraged if none of them are available near you. Xfinity’s and Cox’s 1.2 TB data caps are high enough to cover extreme binging habits. However, most providers with data caps offer a la carte data plans if you need more data. Xfinity charges an additional $30 a month for unlimited data. Cox offers two data plans: an extra 500 GB for $29.99 a month, or unlimited data for $49.99 a month.
A gaming router is all about preference. If you’re an avid gamer and like to host gaming parties, a gaming router may benefit you since they have more ethernet ports and stronger WiFi antennas than standard routers. Gaming routers also have Quality of Service (QoS) features that allow you to prioritize your gaming data over any other activity on your network. Think of it like a special lane created to send your gaming data to and from the servers. Serious gamers and streamers can take advantage of this feature to ensure there's no issue with their session.
I have to admit, however, the price of most gaming routers are too high to make it worth it for most gamers and streamers. If you simply want to lower latency when you're playing online, try connecting your console to your router via ethernet. Or if you’re lucky enough to have Cox available near you, you can get their Elite Gamer add-on which has the same data prioritization features but for free. Before considering buying a gaming router, take a look at your current router’s features. Some offer ‘game modes’ and QoS features you wouldn’t know about until you ask.