flame Compare Deals and save hundreds of pounds Sim Only Deals Phone Deals

4G and 5G for gaming

29th April 2020

4G Gaming

The improved browsing speeds and rapid downloading of 4G and now 5G are well documented. However, one thing we feel is underplayed are the benefits which superfast 4G and 5G networks bring to those who enjoy playing their favourite games online.

We’re talking about those who love nothing more than taking down a foe from the other side of the country (or world) with an AK47 in Call of Duty, or demolishing a Zergling army in StarCraft. In such a competitive environment a good internet connection can often be the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have access to a fibre broadband connection, so their only option is a mobile broadband connection. That’s always been an underwhelming experience via 3G, but since 4G landed online gaming on mobile networks has come into its own, and with 5G it can truly rival fibre.

4G networks deliver lower pings than 3G networks, resulting in an improved online environment, while its increased bandwidth and download speeds are also advantageous to gamers, and 5G improves all of those things further. Read on for full details of why 4G is so beneficial to gamers, and the ways in which 5G is even better.

Table of Contents

Lower latency (or ping)

Mobile Networks Latency

Network Type

Average Latency or Ping (milliseconds)

3G

100

4G

45

5G

21

The most important thing in an online environment, particularly in fast-paced shooter and strategy games, is a decent ping. Ping (or latency) is the time it takes for a request to be sent to the game server and back again, so the lower the figure the more responsive things will feel and the easier it’ll be to “own that annoying scrub”.

3G connections delivered pings that average around the 100 milliseconds mark, while on early 4G networks that was reduced to around 70-80ms, and now we’re seeing latency as low as around 40ms on the more advanced 4G networks of 2020.

On 5G even those figures are halved, with latency averaging around 21-26ms according to data from Ookla, and in future we could see 5G latency drop as low as 1ms.

Given that we’re talking milliseconds that might not seem like much difference on paper, but hardened gamers will know that once pings go above 100 it can affect your ability to compete in fast-paced games. On 4G your shots will register significantly faster, meaning you’ll have a much better chance of registering that round-winning headshot, and on 5G you’ll have an even bigger edge.

Faster download and upload speeds

Mobile Networks Speeds

Network Type

Average Download Speeds (Mbps)

Average Upload Speeds  (Mbps)

3G

6

3

4G

20

8

4G LTE-Advanced

40

20

5G

130-240 65-120

Are you left itching to play while the latest updates for your favourite game download at a snail’s pace?

Then you’re probably stuck on 3G, as a basic 4G network is around five times faster than a standard 3G network and new advances mean 4G can be even faster still, meaning you spend more time in game and less time staring at menus.

You should see average download speeds hovering around 20Mbps on most 4G networks, and on EE they’re around 35.9Mbps according to an April 2020 report from Opensignal.

EE’s above average speeds are driven in part by its double speed 4G network (which is exactly what the name suggests, and offers download speeds of up to 60Mbps), and by its 4G+ service, which is faster still with download speeds of up to 90Mbps.

That’s up to 25 times faster than 3G and is a technology that’s also known as LTE-Advanced. Vodafone and Three use similar tech now though, and even on O2 you should get 4G speeds that are high enough for competitive online gaming.

Of course, that’s just 4G, and all of these networks are even faster on 5G, with reports suggesting average download speeds in the region of 130-240Mbps, with peak speeds potentially exceeding 1Gbps. That leaves even LTE-Advanced in the dust, and makes for speeds that can truly rival the fastest fibre broadband, so you can game just as effectively when out and about as when at home.

Uploading is important too though - sharing your latest video clips on YouTube is a huge growth area - with Sony’s PS4 even coming with a dedicated share button on its controller.

Uploading is slower than downloading, so the wait can be longer - but fear not because 4G offers upload speeds up to 20 times faster than 3G. Opensignal reports average 4G upload speeds of roughly 6.5-10Mbps depending on what network you use.

There’s less data on 5G upload speeds, but in general you can expect at most half the download speed for an upload, so you’re likely looking at an average of 65-120Mbps – or less. That’s many, many times faster than 4G still though, so you can upload clips in an instant.

Game streaming

With all this extra speed, 4G and especially 5G opens up a type of mobile gaming not possible before, namely streaming, where rather than downloading a game, you just stream it from the internet.

This has the advantage of letting you get into the game instantly, rather than needing to wait for it to download, plus you don’t need to fill up all the space on your phone to play lots of games, and you can even play games that wouldn’t run well on your hardware, as the processing is handled elsewhere.

An example of this is Hatch, a subscription service that lets you stream premium mobile games, but more excitingly things like Google Stadia let you stream PC and console titles on mobile. However, Stadia doesn’t currently work with mobile connections, but we’d expect that to change once 5G becomes more widespread.

How much data does gaming use?

4G and even more so 5G are game-changers - literally - for online gaming, but one thing they don’t fix is data use. In fact, mobile games are now likely to use more data than before, since they can rely on fast mobile networks to download it quickly.

So how much data are we talking? That depends on the game and the device, but the good news is that for mobile games it’s not generally too bad. Whistleout reports that online gaming on mobile uses upwards of 3MB per hour, which is a tiny amount.

Even the PC MMO World of Warcraft can use as little at 10MB per hour (though in certain circumstances it can also use upwards of 40MB per hour).

Some games aren’t so light on your data though. Many online PC games can use upwards of 100MB per hour. Exact usage is generally hard to pin down, but forums are full of players claiming that data usage can hit numbers as high as 1GB per hour in extreme cases.

That’s for PC and console gaming though, which is only an issue if you’re using 4G or 5G to get something other than a phone or tablet online. For online mobile games, you should generally be fine if you have a data allowance of 10GB or more, but if you plan to tether or use a MiFi or 4G or 5G home broadband device (explained below) for your online gaming, you might want the biggest data allowance offered by your network.

You’ll also likely want a higher data allowance if you plan to stream games (like services such as Hatch allows for) rather than downloading them.

Best mobile broadband deals for gamers

Beyond phones there are three different types of 4G and 5G devices to choose from and it's important to choose the one that best suits your needs.

Mobile WiFi is a portable solution which shares a single connection with multiple devices, home broadband is for sharing internet with a whole household (but requires mains power), and dongles plug into the USB port on a laptop or computer.

Mobile WiFi

With the latest breed of 4G and 5G routers (or Mobile WiFi devices) you can share a single mobile connection with multiple devices at once.

One example is the Huawei 4G Plus MiFi, which can share a single 4G connection with up to 16 devices. It does so by creating your own personal WiFi network, meaning you can connect any devices with WiFi, such as the PlayStation 4, Xbox One or a desktop PC. 

Huawei Mobile WiFi

Mobile WiFi

40GB data

Three Logo

12 Month Contract

£17 a month

View Deal

Huawei Mobile WiFi

Mobile WiFi

Unlimited data

24 Month Contract

£23 a month

View Deal

Compare Mobile Broadband deals

Setting everything up couldn't be easier and it’s self-powered with up to 6 hours of battery life from a single charge. Grab it on Three and you can even get unlimited data, so you don’t need to worry about running out, which can otherwise be a problem with this kind of gadget, as connecting multiple devices to it can use up a lot of data

This compact device is one of the newest Mobile WiFi devices to be released and supports the fastest 4G speeds, which makes it it great for gaming on-the-move and the perfect companion for a Nintendo Switch.

And if you want to power up your game even more there’s the likes of the HTC 5G Hub, which is available on EE and is a similar idea to the 4G device above but with far faster 5G speeds.

It has all-day battery life, can get up to 20 devices online at once, and even has a 5-inch touchscreen and runs Android, so you can use the Hub itself as a media device.

HTC Hub 5G

HTC Hub 5G

50GB data

EE Logo

24 month contract

£50 a month

View Deal

Compare Home Broadband deals

Home broadband

We’ve looked at portable Wi-Fi devices above, but you can also get 4G home broadband, or for the best speeds possible, 5G home broadband.

Generally, if you’re a serious online gamer you’ll probably want a fast fibre connection ideally, but sometimes that’s not practical or possible. Not all addresses can get fibre broadband and even if you can the cost or contract length could prove prohibitive.

That’s where 4G and 5G broadband really comes in, with a prime example being the Huawei B535 (aka the Huawei HomeFi Plus) offered by Three, which supports 4G LTE-A.

Huawei B535

Huawei B535

Unlimited data

24 month contract

£20 a month

View Deal

Compare Home Broadband deals

The network lets you get a 1-month, 12-month or 24-month contract, so there’s lots of flexibility, and you don’t need a landline to use it, which can save you money.

The Huawei B535 is also simple to set up, offering plug and play functionality once you’ve put the supplied 4G SIM card in, so there’s no need for an engineer visit.

The Huawei B535 can get up to 64 devices online simultaneously, which is more than most homes should need, and it offers download speed of up to 300Mbps and upload speeds of up to 100Mbps, which is more than enough for gaming, and better than most rival devices. It also comes with unlimited data.

If you need something even faster then you’ll want a 5G home broadband device, such as the Vodafone GigaCube, which can be as fast as speedy fibre broadband, so this is a no-compromise option.

It can get up to 64 devices online at once, and there’s no landline required. Note that a 4G version of this is also available, so double check which one you’re buying.

Vodafone Gigacube

Vodafone Gigacube

100GB data

Vodafone

18 month contract

£30 a month

£100 upfront

View Deal

Compare Home Broadband deals

Dongles

As well as larger mobile broadband devices you can also get compact dongles – these plug into the USB port of a compatible device and get them online.

They’re small enough that you can throw one in your pocket, so you’re always prepared for an online game, and they’re often cheaper than a battery-powered MiFi device too, since they don’t need a battery of their own (instead drawing power from the device they’re connected to). They only get one device online at once, but one is probably all you’ll need for gaming.

Vodafone K5161

6GB data

Vodafone Logo

12 Month Contract

£18 a month

View Deal

Compare Mobile Broadband deals

There are a few to choose from, but the Huawei E3372 is one of the best for gamers, offering 4G download speeds of up to 150Mbps.

That’s more than any network is currently likely to deliver in the real world outside of 5G, so it’s plenty, as well as being slightly future-proofed.

You also get upload speeds of up to 50Mbps, which again is well above the average any network is likely to deliver in practice right now.

It’s also compact and offers plug and play connectivity, so there’s no complicated setup to go through. The only real downside of this dongle (and this applies to all dongles) is that the device you’re connecting it to needs a USB port, but that covers most consoles and computers.

Note that at the time of writing no UK networks sell 5G dongles, so for the very best possible mobile data speeds you’ll need to choose another product type, such as the options above.

Conclusion

Online gamers who can’t get a home broadband connection, or who love gaming on the move, should consider getting themselves a 4G dongle, or a 4G or 5G home broadband or Mobile WiFi device. They deliver lower pings, faster downloads and quicker uploads than 3G networks, resulting in a much-improved experience overall.

5G is of course the best option, but just make sure you have coverage where you need it if opting for that, as it’s not as widespread as 4G.

Latest Offers

Sim Deals

SIM Card Triple SIM
9 GB Data UNLIMITED Minutes UNLIMITED Texts £8.00 a month
Max speeds 10mbps
View Details
SIM Card Triple SIM
8 GB Data UNLIMITED Minutes UNLIMITED Texts £8.00 a month
Exclusive Deal
View Details
View More

Latest Phones

Compare phone deals and save
Sign up for our newsletter.