We’ve all been there – deep into an intense game online, one minute left on the clock. All you’ve got to do is line up the perfect shot, and it’s right there in front of you but then… your opponent stutters away ever so slightly and before you can adjust they’ve got you first. Game over.
Latency and lag in gaming has improved significantly from those old days where you’d be trying to play Doom over dialup, but not completely. As games have become ever more complex and precise, the impact of even the tiniest amount of latency has increased. For the serious gamer, finding ways to minimise the latency is everything.
So, the question is, what can you do?
1) Upgrade your Internet connection
The first, and most obvious thing that you can do to reduce latency is make sure that your Internet speeds are fast enough – and reliable enough – to handle online gaming. You don’t actually need that fast of a connection for online gaming – just a couple of Mbps is sufficient – but most modern households have multiple Internet connections happening at the same time. If you’re trying to play games on a “minimum” connection, while someone else in the family is watching Netflix and someone else is streaming their Spotify playlist, then you might start to see a performance dip.
Upgrading your Internet connection to the fastest available to your area is a useful first step for addressing a poor gaming experience. Ideally, you want a fibre connection that runs all the way to your house, to ensure maximum flow of data.
2) Consider getting a 5G connection for your gaming uses
5G actually offers vastly better latency than wired connections. Where 4G was an inferior option for gaming, 5G has leapfrogged to be the best option available. For some benchmark examples – a fixed-line Internet connection can have a latency of around 20ms under optimal circumstances. Meanwhile, a 5G connection can theoretically get down to 1ms, though in most real-world tests it sits at around 9ms. That’s an improvement by more than double what fixed line can achieve.
You can connect your gaming device to 5G in a number of ways. One is to get a dedicated 5G Internet connection and broadband modem. Another is to use a 5G mobile phone as a hotspot. Traditionally people have been concerned about the amount of data that would use, with 5G data being a premium compared to fixed line Internet, but gaming consumes less data than you might think, and for the purposes of online multiplayer, a mid-level data plan on 5G would be sufficient.
3) Connect the console or PC to the Internet via ethernet
Wi-Fi is a magnificent technology that has made computing so much more convenient. Armed with laptops and mobiles, we can do our computing from anywhere in the house, and also have our TVs, security systems and even lightbulbs connected to the Internet without needing to fill the house with wires.
However, for gamers, Wi-Fi has one downside; it introduces additional latency to the connection. This can depend on a wide range of factors, from distance to the modem to other competing wireless connections in the area, but in almost all cases you’ll find yourself dealing with more latency than you would if you were connected via Ethernet. So, set up your gaming devices close to the modem and connect them via ethernet for the best possible experience.
4) Have the right router and channel
If you are using Wi-Fi, then there are still things that you can do to try and improve the latency. One is to make sure you have a modern modem, and it’s one that supports the 5 GHz band. Most older modems only support the 2.4 GHz band, but higher-end and more modern devices have that second option. The 5 GHz band isn’t going to speed up your connection, but what it will do is broadcast over a broader range of channels, which your device will automatically pick up and adjust for. What this means is that there is going to be much less interference in the connection, which will help greatly in reducing latency.
The downside is that the 5 GHz band has a much lower range than the 2.4 GHz channel, so you’ll want to be playing in the same room as the modem.
Another thing you can do is drop into the router’s settings and see if there are ways to tweak performance. One common example is called Quality of Service (QoS). This is a feature in most modern routers that allows you to prioritise certain kinds of traffic. Simply select the options that will provide QoS to gaming and see if that boosts performance. If you’re uncomfortable with messing around with your router’s settings, contact your ISP, who will generally be able to help walk you through router configurations.
5) Choose the right game
There’s one other big consideration when it comes to latency – where the game’s servers themselves are held. If the game you’re playing has “local servers” (i.e. servers that are located within your own country, or a physically neighbouring and close-by country) then you’ll have better latency than, for example, if you’re trying to connect to servers hosted in the US from the UK, Australia or Japan.
The further the data has to travel, the longer it will take and the greater the latency will be. There’s nothing that can be done about this, other than to ask the game developer to set up and maintain local servers. For the really big games, the developers do try and locate enough servers around the world, strategically, so the maximum number of players can enjoy low-latency gaming. Smaller games are unlikely to have that same level of support, so you may need to consider finding something else to play instead.
With these simple tricks you should be able to enjoy a vastly superior gaming experience, and then you won’t be able to blame the lag when you cost your team the match any longer.