If you don’t have a fixed line (cable, fiber, ADSL etc) internet connection, you may not play online multiplayer games, thinking that you can’t. You may think there’s absolutely no way that 4G or LTE data can get you through an online match in a video game.
However, the truth is, as usual, much muddier than this. We’ll begin with a short answer, followed by a more detailed explanation.
Is 4G or LTE Fast Enough for Gaming?
Put simply, a 4G or LTE internet connection can absolutely be enough to play online video games.
There are a few factors that play into this, such as download speed, upload speed, latency & ping, and, of course, the game you’re trying to play.
We’ll explore each of these in detail, comparing the average 4G LTE connection specifications with the requirements of a handful of games.
Of course, the connection speed of your mobile data will vary substantially based on service provider and location, so it’s possible your situation falls far below or above the averages shown here.
A good 4G or LTE internet connection with average speed will probably be enough for many online gaming situations!
How Many Mbps Does 4G or LTE Provide?
Most 4G LTE connections through providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint will have average download speeds of 5 to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of between 2 and 5 Mbps.
Although many users will have much higher speeds than this, it turns out that 5 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload is fast enough for many functions like streaming HD videos and online gaming on PC, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox.
How Many Mbps do I Need for Gaming?
On the Xbox One, online gaming on Xbox Live, it’s recommended to have a speed of 3 Mbps for download speed and 500 kilobits per second (Kbps) for uploads.
That’s substantially lower than the averages for major mobile service providers, and you’re likely to succeed in playing many games with a 4G connection or better.
Xbox also recommends at least 1 Mbps in download speed for SD video and 3.5 Mbps for HD video. These numbers also fall well below the connection you likely have access to.
PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC have similar minimum requirements, but some players squeak by with even lower speeds, such as just a megabit per second.
However, the actual specifications of your connection come further into question when tasked with running certain fast-paced games. Let’s take a look at the effect of the games themselves on requirements and how latency affects online gaming.
How Much Speed do I Need for Different Kinds of Games?
Most online games will list the minimum and recommended internet connection very vaguely.
They’ll usually say something like ‘broadband connection.’ Well, I’m sure you have a broadband connection, but that says nothing about the ping or latency and very little about bandwidth.
It pretty much just means that your connection is considered a high-speed, continuous connection.
However, different games have different needs. A real-time first-person shooter (FPS) game will generally need a very low level of latency, as 15 milliseconds can play a huge role in your effective reaction time in a game like that.
A turn-based strategy game or slower-paced MMO won’t have the same needs. Take Old School Runescape as an example; it runs on something called ticks, which are 0.6 seconds each.
A delay as large as 150 milliseconds may not be very impactful in a game like this, as actions only occur every 0.6 seconds or slower.
The effect is even less significant in turn-based games like Hearthstone, where a full second of delay may not impact a match, just the smoothness of your turn.
Internet providers are itching to sell you on their bandwidth, advertising huge download, and upload speeds. However, they rarely ever mention low latency, which is the time it takes for tiny packets of information to be sent and received.
It’s important to make sure your home network has the speed you need to play games on a computer or console, but don’t forget to check up on the latency. It may be even more important depending on what you’re planning to play.
What About Latency, Ping, and Lag?
Ping is the name used for a pulse sent from one computer to another. The latency is how long it takes for that signal to reach the destination, be sent back, and be received again.
This is also sometimes referred to as the ping time or just ping for short. It’s measured in milliseconds and is an indication of how likely your connection is to lag.
Connections with lower latency are less prone to lag, while higher latency means more frequent and longer lags. A latency under 75 to 100 milliseconds is considered good for most online gaming purposes and should be relatively unnoticeable.
If Latency Matters Most, What is High-Speed Good For?
In online gaming, connection speed matters, but there’s a point where diminishing returns kick in fully.
Many people opt for gigabit packages that include much more bandwidth than they could hope to utilize. However, it does have advantages. For example, when downloading large games, you’ll want a fast download speed.
Remember, a bit is one-eighth of a byte, so a one gigabit per second download speed will download a one-gigabyte game in about eight seconds.
That’s a considerable advantage on its own; as games continue to get larger, it’s not unheard of to see a game that takes up 50 to 100 gigabytes of space. Making quick work of that with 500 Mbps or 1 Gbps speeds can definitely come in handy.
Faster internet connections also have a benefit when it comes to cloud gaming, albeit you probably don’t need quite as much. (As if you really need to download a 100-gigabyte game in 12 minutes either).
When you’re playing a game on the cloud, you don’t have to download the game upfront. Instead, your system will download the parts it needs at intervals.
It’s a bit more intensive on bandwidth than just playing an online multiplayer game, but again it relies on latency a lot as well.
Overall, speed is just one component of internet connection quality, and your actual speed can be lower than most people would think while still achieving passable results.
So, Should you Play Video Games Online on 4G or LTE?
Of course, not all situations will be right for your mobile broadband connection. Perhaps you should leave your Call of Duty gaming for when you have a low-latency network to use via a modem or router.
Another option for online games using mobile data is 5G, which sports better speeds and lower latency than 4G and LTE networks.
However, your 4G or LTE mobile data can be a great and trusty alternative network and can even work great for all sorts of mobile-friendly games.