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The Best 4G and 5G Networks For Gaming in the UK in 2021

Fiber broadband is the ideal choice for gaming, but it’s not available everywhere in the UK. In this article we’ll cover the best mobile broadband options available for gamers.

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We know fibre broadband is king when it comes to seamless mobile gaming but mobile broadband and specifically 4G has come a long way in terms of coverage and consistent speeds with new generation 5G offering superfast speeds that can compete with or exceed speeds available with some fibre connections.

According to Open Signal’s October 2020 test results, nowadays a 4G connection can provide low enough latency for responsive gaming, but if you’d like to play competitive game modes they don’t recommend any 4G networks. The independent testing body states that in most cases games were responsive to the actions of the player, however the majority of players noticed a delay between their actions and the outcomes in the game. Considering how a good internet connection can often be the difference between winning or losing, we also can’t recommend any of the 4G networks, even if it’s EE which has the most 4G coverage and the best data speeds in the country.

Having said that, if you can get a 5G broadband deal, things change drastically for the better. The average latency (also known as ping) for 5G is around 20ms, and it can be even lower if you’re close to the game servers. Any amounts below a ping of 20 ms are considered exceptional and “low”. When it comes to latency/ping lower is always better. 5G connections are significantly more stable than 4G, where 4G has a tendency to be inconsistent during peak periods.

Let’s have an in-depth look and see which mobile broadband deals are better for gaming in the UK in 2020.

What is Latency?

Simply put, latency is the time it takes for data to travel from one place to another. It is the delay between a user’s action and a game’s (in this case) response to that action. In networking terms it is referred to as the total round trip time it takes for a data package to travel between two destinations.

There are a few components that can affect network latency, but at the end of the day the major one is the service you get from your network and how good it is.

Low latency means there’s a minimal, unnoticeable delay when the data pack travels from one place to another. When your latency is low your online gameplay will be responsive and it will feel smooth. 30 ms and below is usually accepted as the perfect latency, while between 31 ms and 60 ms is still quite good. Hardcore gamers, especially the ones who play competitive shooters can feel the latency affecting their gameplay between 61ms to 80ms, but in most cases it’s still playable. However, it puts the player in a slight disadvantage against players with better ping.

High latency means there’s a noticeable delay when data travels between the client and the server. Usually above 80 ms is considered high and quite frankly, if your ping is around 100 ms a competitive shooter or a MOBA like League of Legends, DOTA 2 etc. becomes unplayable. While 100ms may not sound like it’s a huge number, for gamers it can mean the difference between a win or a loss.

What Can Affect My Ping?

The main variable which can affect your latency is your distance to the server. And it doesn’t end with just simple geography either. The number of hops and quality of the connections also play a key factor.

Under ideal circumstances your upload speed shouldn’t affect it, however, if you have a very slow upload speed or it’s been hogged by other users in the household, your data transfer speed can be affected negatively, meaning your ping would increase.

Also, it’s always recommended to connect your gaming device to your internet hub/router via a network cable for an ideal performance. While the wireless technology is constantly improving, it’s still more reliable to use a cable for a more stable performance.

What is a Good Latency Speed?

A good latency speed, just like bandwidth, download speed & upload speed is relative, but when it comes to gaming online we can talk about numbers. For smooth competitive level online gaming, you should aim for a latency of less than 30 ms, but 31 to 60 ms is still quite good. Above 61 ms, you’ll slowly start noticing problems, but if you’re not playing a competitive game mode you can still tolerate high pings until the delay makes the game completely unplayable.

4G Mobile Broadbands for Gaming

Depending on how good the coverage is in your area, 4G can be at a similar level or even better than fixed broadband. When you get decent 4G coverage, your average latency will be around 30 to 50 ms, which is more than enough for competitive and responsive gaming.

For the first time ever, in 2020 Open Signal tested the four major mobile network operators in the UK for games experience and EE came out as the winner of this category. The network is followed by Vodafone, O2 and Three.

EE 4G Mobile Broadband

EE has the best 4G coverage, fastest 4G data speeds and the lowest average latency among the four major mobile network providers in the UK. EE has the best 4G Availability in the United Kingdom at 97.1%.

Open Signal tested EE with some of the most popular real-time multiplayer mobile games (such as Fortnite, PES, Arena of Valor) played around the world and found the network to be the best choice. However, EE, Vodafone and O2 all placed in the ‘Fair’ category but the difference between their services in terms of user experience is not noticeable. Meanwhile,Three ended up with a ‘Poor’ rating.

At the moment you can get a 4GEE, 4GEE 2 or 4GEE WiFi Mini 2020 router bundled with a mobile broadband contract from EE. The network’s routers are easy to set up and we can easily say that EE Mobile Broadband is a good alternative to slow home broadband. You can also check out our EE Review if you want to learn more about the carrier’s coverage and see their top SIM Only deals.

Three 4G Mobile Broadband

4G coverage is not Three’s strongest area. When it comes to 4G Availability the network ranks last among the four major operators in the country at 79%. Three also ended up with a ‘Poor’ rating for mobile gaming experience in Open Signal’s October 2020 tests. Their users found the carrier’s mobile broadband service to be below average. In fact the majority of players noticed significant delays between their actions and outcomes in the game.

Three’s average 4G latency is also the highest compared to its competitors. According to OOKLA’s latest test results the network’s average latency numbers are around 60 ms, but their overall latency graphic is quite jittery. This means Three’s mobile broadband and home broadband services can cause lag spikes and impact your gaming experience in a negative way.

We can only recommend Three’s 4G mobile broadband plans, if you’re getting great 4G coverage in your area from the network. Make sure to have a look at our Three Review to find out more about the carrier.

Vodafone 4G Mobile Broadband,

The UK’s oldest mobile network provider has 4G mobile broadband options to suit every kind of need. They have a nice variety of data-only SIMs deals from 30-day plans to 12-month contracts.

Vodafone has the second best 4G availability in the UK according to OOKLA’s Q3 2020 test results at 92.5% and they also offer the second fastest 4G data speeds as well. Their average 4G download speeds are around 22.4Mbps and upload speeds are around 8.5Mbps. The network’s average latency is also second lowest. This means when it comes to mobile games or using your mobile internet for competitive gaming, Vodafone is a decent choice.

Vodafone is placed in the ‘Fair’ category for online gaming and if you’re getting reliable 4G coverage in your area we can recommend checking the network’s data dongles and Mobile WiFi hotspot offers.

For more information we recommend checking out our Vodafone Review.

O2 4G Mobile Broadband

O2 may not have the lowest latency, but they’re pretty much on par with EE and Vodafone and the end user experience is the same. O2’s average 4G latency is around 45 to 50ms, which is quite good, even for competitive shooters and MOBAs, however, Open Signal users experienced noticeable lag spikes when using their O2 connection for gaming purposes.

The network’s 4G availability in the UK is increasing at a great pace and their UK geographical coverage is now at 91.6%. However, O2’s average 4G data speeds are the slowest. According to the October 2020 speed test results performed by multiple independent testing bodies, O2 always ranked last.

Overall, if you’re just focusing on the gaming aspect O2 is a comparable choice to both EE and Vodafone, but if you want a better overall experience you might want to consider other options.

We’d also recommend checking out Sky Mobile’s fixed broadband deals. To learn more about the O2 Network, you can read our in-depth O2 Review.

5G Mobile Broadbands for Gaming

Unfortunately, 5G isn’t yet available in many cities and towns in the UK. In fact it’s only available in selected destinations and even then it’s not the whole town that gets the coverage, but more central areas. However, you get super-low latency numbers with 5G and due to larger bandwidth, lag spikes are pretty much non-existent.

At the moment all four major mobile network operators offer 5G mobile broadband deals, and according to both OOKLA and Open Signal, their average ping is around 30 ms. Over time the quality of the service will improve even more and at least in theory, the average ping can go as low as 5 ms or lower.

Three 5G Mobile Broadband

Three has the fastest 5G in the UK according to OOKLA’s October 2020 speed test results. The mobile network also has 140MHz of 5G spectrum, which is more than any other carrier has. While the provider’s 4G network is far from ideal for competitive gaming, Three’s 5G is simply great. You get low latency and a stable connection, as well as super-fast data speeds at competitive prices.

The only problem is Three’s 5G Home Broadband deals are only available in specific areas. The network’s 5G is live in 193 cities and towns and we expect this number to increase even faster next year. If you want to take advantage of 5G data speeds but unsure of what network to choose, you can check out our Best 5G SIM Only deals guide.

EE 5G Mobile Broadband

While EE currently offers the slowest 5G data speeds, they have the most coverage in the UK with 125 cities and towns and counting. Plus, their coverage per location is significantly wider than all the other networks. The network also has the most 5G users in the UK at the moment, and so far they’re getting quite the positive feedback from their customers.

You can enjoy EE’s 5G data speeds by purchasing their 5GEE Home Router with Antenna (Huawei 5G CPE Pro). You’ll be getting a reliable, fast and strong connection with this deal, provided your area is already covered. EE’s 5G Mobile Broadband offer is solid for online gaming, even for top tier players.

Of course, EE’s amazing service and availability makes their prices a bit higher than others, but you also get top notch customer service.

O2 5G Mobile Broadband

Another great alternative for 5G gaming is O2. At the time of writing, O2’s 5G is live in 150 cities and towns in the UK and the network continues to expand. As stated earlier, their average latency in popular mobile games, as well as regular online games is pretty decent and usually around 30ms or below, meaning O2 5G is a very good choice.

The network also offers the second fastest 5G download speeds according to OOKLA. You can get a Huawei 5G Pocket Hotspot Pro from the mobile network and enjoy 5G gaming. You can manage the Pocket Hotspot using an app on your phone. The device can be charged on the go, either via a USB cable or wireless charging.

O2 lets you customise your own 5G Mobile Broadband deal. Their contracts start from 3 months all the way up to 36 months. Unfortunately, the network doesn’t offer an unlimited data plan. At the moment, the maximum amount of data you can get is 150GB.

Vodafone 5G Mobile Broadband

Like its competitors, Vodafone also offers a decent 5G mobile broadband deal and according to OOKLA the network delivers high quality 5G service. Users didn’t experience any lag spikes or higher than 40 ms latency, which is great for all kinds of online gaming.

If you want to get a Vodafone 5G mobile broadband deal, you’ll have to get a 5G GigaCube from the network. You can choose between the 18-month or rolling 30-day contracts. The network’s 5G is the third fastest among the major four, and they rank the last when it comes to UK 5G Coverage. However, Vodafone’s 5G is available in 193 other locations across Germany, Spain, Italy and Ireland with more to come. In the UK, however, you can only get a 5G deal from the carrier in 57 locations.

Vodafone 5G GigaCube can connect up to 64 devices quickly and easily. Just plug it in and get instant internet access without the fuss. It will automatically set itself up.

Half Cooked’s Overall Breakdown

When it comes to 4G mobile broadband we think you should pick whichever network gives you the most stable 4G coverage. However, we must exclude Three if you wish to play competitive and fast paced shooters like Valorant, PUBG, CS:GO and so on. Three’s average 4G latency is noticeably worse than their competitors, and their service doesn’t seem as reliable. EE is the best network for 4G gaming, but their lead against Vodafone and O2 isn’t that big.

However, if you can get a 5G mobile broadband deal from them, then Three is probably the best choice. Their 5G is fast, stable, reliable and has more spectrum. Plus their average ping is slightly lower.

FAQ

How can I reduce my ping when I’m gaming?

You can reduce the number of devices using the internet connection, close unnecessary background programs and webpages and ensure your device is close to the router. You can also connect your device to your router with a network cable.

Will increasing my download or upload speed reduce my ping?

Download and upload speeds affect your ping, but neither will significantly impact it. Ping is a measure of latency. You may have a 100Mbps connection with 100 ms of ping or a 1Mbps connection with 50 ms of ping.

What is ping in gaming?

Latency or ping is the amount of time it takes for your system to send data to another device/server and receive its response. Lower ping is always better.

What is bandwidth?

Simply put, bandwidth is how much information your internet connection can handle and it can be affected by everything you do on the web.

Will increasing my download speed make my ping better?

It will make a positive impact, but in most cases it will be unnoticeable. Some users may experience drastic changes, but usually the reason behind the major improvement is related to switching to a better infrastructure like fiber or 5G.