Bad internet will ruin a good game. Consider these top internet providers for gaming.
It's one thing to lose an online match or let your teammates down due to lack of skill or simply being outmatched by your opponent. It's quite another to lose because of a bad internet connection.
Slow, unreliable internet speeds and a lagging connection are a gamer's greatest foe, but one that can be overcome fairly easily with the right internet service. Verizon Fios gets our vote for best ISP for gaming overall thanks to low latency and fast, reliable speeds, but other providers, especially those of the cable and fiber variety, are ideal for gaming. Some, like Cox with its Elite Gamer add-on, offer specific services or equipment to further help gamers gain the competitive edge.
Here on CNET, we're keeping track of the top internet providers, so we'll add the best ISPs for gaming to this list whenever we spot them. For now, here's a look at our picks of the top ISPs for gaming. Feel free to plug your ZIP code into the tool below to see if any of our recommended internet providers are available in your area.
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Verizon Fios speed tiers -- 300Mbps, 500Mbps, 1Gbps and, in some places, 2Gbps -- all offer plenty of upload and download speed for online gaming. The provider also excels at another important gaming factor: latency.
Latency, or "ping," is a measure of how long it takes your device and the server to communicate over the internet. High latency means more time. So it can lead to lagging and totally throw off your timing, contributing to losses or at the very least sucking some of the joy out of a game. For the best gaming experience, you want the lowest possible latency.
According to the most recent speed test data from Ookla, Verizon boasts the lowest latency of any major ISP, at 15 milliseconds. Anything below 40ms should make for fairly seamless, lag-free gameplay, so lagging should be less of a factor, if it's one at all, when gaming on Verizon Fios home internet.
As a bonus, Verizon Fios is now offering a free MOCA Ethernet adapter for networking and a $50 Xbox e-gift card to new gigabit customers.
Cox is one of the largest cable internet providers in the country, and it's one of the only ones that offers a feature dedicated to online PC gaming (Mac and gaming consoles aren't supported, unfortunately).
Elite Gamer promises to reduce lag when gaming online by automatically finding faster routes to whatever server you're connecting with. The service costs an extra $7 per month -- or nothing at all if you're already spending $12 per month to rent the Cox Panoramic Wifi gateway, a combination modem and router.
Elite Gamer works with more than 150 PC games, including popular titles such as Apex Legends, Battlefield 5, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Dead by Daylight, Destiny 2, Diablo 2 Resurrected, The Elder Scrolls Online, Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto 5, League of Legends, Minecraft, Overwatch, PUBG, Rocket League, World of Warcraft and more.
To use the service, you'll need to download the Elite Gamer app to your PC, log in with a Cox username and password, and then launch a game. The service supports multiple sessions at once, so if you want to game together with a friend or a roommate, they can download the application and play at the same time as you with the same reductions in jitter and ping.
One caveat -- if you opt to get Elite Gamer for free by renting the Cox Panoramic Wifi Gateway, then you should know that the Panoramic Wifi Gateway puts out a second, public Wi-Fi network separate from your home's network that people nearby can use as a hotspot. That feature is on by default, which is something I wasn't crazy about in my review of Cox home internet service. Fortunately, you can turn that hotspot off by going to cox.com/myprofile and signing in with your Cox credentials.
Cox might have software that does what a gaming router does, but Astound goes further and gives customers the option of renting a gaming router outright for $13 per month. Specifically, it's the Netgear Nighthawk XR1000 gaming router, which boasts high speeds, low latency and support for Wi-Fi 6, the newest (and fastest) generation of Wi-Fi.
$13 per month is a pretty fair price here as far as ISPs are concerned. In a lot of cases, you'll need to spend $10 or $15 per month to rent equipment from an ISP. And while plenty of providers are now offering upgraded hardware -- things like mesh routers and Wi-Fi 6 routers -- it's rare to find one that offers a bona fide gaming router as an option.
In this case, the XR1000 would cost you $370 if you were to buy it outright, so you could rent one from Astound for nearly two years and still come out ahead. Gaming features with the XR1000 include built-in DumaOS software that helps prioritize live-streaming and cloud gaming traffic, as well as tools that automatically steer you into the highest-performing servers whenever you're playing online.
The providers listed above boast special offers or features targeted directly at gamers, but they're not the only ISPs that you can rely on for online gaming. Here are some others you may want to consider for gaming.
AT&T Fiber - I would recommend a fiber connection over any other connection type for all online activity, including gaming. AT&T is the largest fiber provider in the nation and even its cheapest plan is capable of delivering more than enough speed for gaming. Additionally, recent Ookla speed test results placed AT&T second in lowest latency at 23ms.
Frontier Fiber - Again, a solid fiber connection is the way to go when gaming. While Frontier doesn't offer any specific incentives for gaming, the fast speed tiers -- 500Mbps, Gig and 2Gig -- are ample speed for multiple players and gaming devices.
Spectrum - Our top pick for best cable internet provider, Spectrum internet comes with fast speeds for a decent, transparent monthly price. With a fee modem and low router rental fee of $5 per month, you can keep added fees to a minimum and save that extra money for games and loot boxes.
Xfinity - Ookla reports Xfinity speeds are fast and consistent. In Q4 2022 speed test results, Xfinity landed the fastest median speeds, 226Mbps, and highest consistency of speeds over 25Mbps at 91.8%.
Locating local internet providers
You actually don't need a ton of speed for online gaming. Most PC and gaming console manufacturers require download speeds below 10Mbps for online gaming. Still, I'd recommend an internet plan with max speeds of at least 25Mbps to accommodate speed fluctuations when gaming over Wi-Fi and to ensure you've got bandwidth for other devices.
Latency is a larger concern than speed when it comes to online gaming. Latency of 20 milliseconds to 40ms is generally ideal for gaming, but anything higher, especially over 100ms, can result in excessive lagging. Fiber and cable internet providers will be your best bet for consistently low latency.
Routers or software that prioritize gaming traffic, like Cox's Gamer Elite or the high-end gaming router available to rent from Astound, can significantly lower your latency while gaming.
You can also strengthen your internet signal by using a wired connection versus Wi-Fi and limiting the number of active devices on your network while gaming.
Upgrading to a better internet service, such as fiber over cable internet or cable internet over DSL, can also drastically improve your latency numbers.
Satellite internet isn't good for online gaming. In fact, satellite internet is good for little more than providing internet service in rural areas where fixed connections like cable and fiber are unavailable.
With satellite internet, signals must travel thousands of miles between your dish and the orbiting satellite, resulting in latency much higher than you'll find with other connection types. Latency over satellite internet can easily reach 400ms to 500ms, rendering real-time online games virtually unplayable.
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