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5G and 4G for gaming

18th July 2023

4G Gaming

The high browsing speeds and rapid downloading of 5G and to a lesser extent 4G 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 winning a battle in League of Legends. 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

30-50

5G

~29

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 get a headshot or win that chicken dinner.

On 5G, latency averages around 29-33ms (milliseconds) according to 2021 data from Ookla, while late 2020 data from RootMetrics found that latency in London ranged between 17ms (on Three) and 45ms (on EE). That’s likely to improve over time too, and in future we could see 5G latency drop as low as 1ms.

For comparison, 4G networks tend to deliver latency in the range of 30-50ms, with April 2020 Opensignal data reporting 36ms as the lowest average of any UK network on 4G. Finally, 3G connections deliver pings that average around the 100 milliseconds mark.

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 than on 3G, 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

6

4G LTE-Advanced

40

10

5G

100-300

9.8-17.3

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 while that offers average download speeds of around 6Mbps, on 5G you could be looking at somewhere between 100-300Mbps.

That’s quite a big range, and it’s because results vary a lot between networks and tests, but even at the low end that’s around 17 times faster than 3G, while at the high end it’s roughly 50 times faster.

To give an example of a recently recorded speed, Opensignal found in April 2023 that Three’s average 5G download speed was 237.7Mbps. Now, that was the highest result on test, but that’s also just the average – peak speeds will be far higher still, possibly topping 1Gbps.

4G of course sits somewhere in the middle. You should see average download speeds hovering around 22Mbps on most 4G networks, and on EE they’re around 36.4Mbps according to an October 2020 report from Opensignal. That’s thanks in part to its use of LTE-Advanced, which is faster than standard 4G.

This should generally be good enough for gaming, but 5G is really what you should be aiming for as a mobile gamer, as 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 PS5 even coming with a dedicated content sharing button on its controller.

Uploading is slower than downloading, so the wait can be longer, but on 5G you’re looking at an average upload speed of between 9.8Mbps (on O2) and 17.3Mbps (on Three) according to April 2023 data from Opensignal.

As for 4G, an earlier Opensignal report points to average 4G upload speeds of roughly 6.2-9.1Mbps depending on what network you use. That’s compared to just 3Mbps on 3G.

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.

Xbox Cloud Gaming is a prime example of this, as it lets you stream PC and console titles on mobile.

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 Wi-Fi 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 a USB port on a laptop or PC.

Mobile Wi-Fi

With the latest breed of mobile 4G and 5G routers (known as mobile broadband devices or mobile Wi-Fi) you can share a single mobile connection with multiple devices at once.

One example is the EE 5G WiFi, which is a 5G mobile broadband device that’s designed to work both portably and in the home. It supports up to 64 simultaneous connections and can leverage the full power of 5G.

It works by creating your own personal Wi-Fi network, meaning you can connect any devices with Wi-Fi, such as the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, or a desktop PC.

Other networks have similar gadgets, like the Vodafone 5G Mobile Hotspot, which also offers 5G speeds, but with up to 32 simultaneous connections.

For 4G, there’s the Three 4G MiFi, which can share a single 4G connection with up to 10 devices.

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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.

Another option is the EE 4G WiFi, which offers similarly high download speeds and can get up to 32 devices online at once.

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.

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5G

If you need the fastest device possible then you’ll want a 5G home broadband device, such as the Vodafone GigaCube 5G, EE Smart 5G Hub, or Three 5G Broadband, each of which can be as fast as speedy fibre broadband, so these are no-compromise options. Most of these routers support up to 64 device connections at once, and there’s no landline required.

A prime example of 4G home broadband meanwhile is Three 4G Broadband (aka the ZTE MF286D) offered by Three, which supports 4G LTE-A.

Three 4G Broadband is 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. It can get up to 64 devices online simultaneously, which is more than most homes should need, and it offers download speeds of up to 600Mbps and upload speeds of up to 150Mbps, which is more than enough for gaming, and better than most rival 4G devices.

If you’d rather be with EE, consider the EE Smart 4G Hub, which is a similar prospect and also supports 64 simultaneous connections, or get the Vodafone GigaCube 4G if you want 4G home broadband on Vodafone.

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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.

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There are a few to choose from, but the Vodafone 4G Mobile Dongle 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, and that most dongles only work with Windows and Mac devices.

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 – or buy a dongle outright from a store and pair it with a data-only plan.

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 things 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 or more 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 15GB or more, but if you plan to tether or use a MiFi or 4G or 5G home broadband device (explained above) 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 Xbox Cloud Gaming allows for) rather than downloading them.

Conclusion

Online gamers who can’t get a full fibre home broadband connection, or who love gaming on the move, should consider getting themselves a 5G home broadband or Mobile Wi-Fi device, or if that’s not an option then at the very least a 4G one. 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, and is even a real alternative to fibre broadband, but just make sure you have coverage where you need it if opting for that, as it’s not as widespread as 4G.

Company director for our 4 websites as follows: 

3G.co.uk
4G.co.uk 
5G.co.uk 
SIMOnly.co.uk

Simon has a first class honours degree in business management and has worked for our companies since 2008. He is responsible for the upkeep of the website, including the price comparison tools and for some editorial content across the site.

He has joint responsibility for 3G.co.uk and SIMOnly.co.uk and is lead Director for 4G.co.uk.

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