WiFi or cable: Which is better for gaming?

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WiFi or cable: Which is better for gaming?

A fast, stable Internet connection is of the utmost importance for the online gaming experience. When configuring the consoles or the PC you have to choose between a wireless WiFi connection or a classic network cable. The residential situation, the general load on the connection, and also your own affinity for online games make one or the other variant preferable. This guide provides you insight about how to create the best technical prerequisites for hours of fun games and high scores. We also take a closer look at the two kinds of connections using the example of the Sony PlayStation 4.

1. What is important for online gaming?
2. WiFi and cable compared
3. The alternative: FRITZ!Powerline


1. What is important for online gaming?

Ping, lag, latency, bandwidth – it's not so easy to keep track of everything at once. Ideally, you want to configure your console or PC once with the preferred connection type and start playing. But playing with people from all over the world over the Internet takes place on such a high technical level that even minor details can have a major impact on the connection. For this reason it is important to take all possible precautions, at least in your own network. For this you need a basic stock of knowledge in order to adequately assess phenomena that occur during gaming.

There may be a lot of players out there who do not know what the concept "ping" means in online gaming. In general, it designates a diagnostic tool used to check network connections. With ping you can find out whether certain participants in an IP network are available. To do this, data packets are sent between the participants. Besides availability, ping also determines how long it takes for packets to reach the recipient and for response packets to reach the original sender.

How delays happen during gaming

In the context of gaming, the ping is displayed as either a number or a bar graph (like the symbol for the WiFi connection). If a number is displayed, it stands for milliseconds (ms). The concepts of latency and lag are also closely associated with the ping. The former designates the time needed to transfer the packets, and can be equated with the ping. Strictly speaking, the number of milliseconds displayed in the game is the "latency time". The larger this number, the longer it takes to send packets with game data to the server and receive them back. So it is also important to ensure that the ping, or the latency, is as low as possible. The first way to do this is to select the right game server, ideally one located on the same continent as you. But just as important is an optimum connection from the home network to the Internet.

If the ping value is too high, the connection unstable or the line overloaded, there may be adverse effects for the gaming experience These are referred to as lags. Players with a poor connection need longer to send and receive the important data packets. This results in asynchronous game play: Entries are sent later, the gameplay is already much "further" than shown on your screen, etc. Depending on the tolerance configured on the server, players with a poor connection may be removed from the game to improve the other players' gaming experience. The complexity of the individual network configurations of each player and the location of the server make it impossible to completely eliminate lags, but with the selection of the right connection such effects can be minimized.

2. WiFi and cable compared

Both WiFi and connections via cable are easy to configure, uncomplicated to manage, and reliable. But there are differences: The major advantages of a wireless connection are flexibility and the practically unlimited number of devices that can be used at the same time. PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U can thus be used in the home network without any complicated configuration, alongside the PC, smart TV and other devices. With a FRITZ!Box 7490, Wireless N (the faster Wireless AC standard is not supported by the latest consoles) provides for transmission rates of up to 450 Mbit/s.

How this looks in practice with a 50,000-kbps DSL line is shown in the screenshot. The speeds in the PlayStation example are estimated, but these values are approximately what you can expect. For a direct comparison, see exactly the same constellation in the second image, this time with a cable connection. It is apparent that the data throughput with the cable connection is around 7.2 times higher during download than the wireless variant. Uploading is also faster, at 0.6 Mbit/s. The tendency shows that a cable connection is better for online players. The actual deviations may be even greater than these estimates produced by the system.

Does it ever make sense to play games via WiFi?

What effects does this have on the game? The numbers and the difference imply that a WiFi connection would not be suitable for playing games. But this is not the case: Bandwidth and thus data transmission are important for gaming, but they play a tangential role. Transmitting hundreds of megabytes of data is not something that happens all the time, as most games render their contents locally and use the Internet only to synchronize the characters and progress of the different participants in the game. Since these packets do not contain so much data, their rate of transmission via WiFi does not play a major role.

A steady, low ping, ideally with no deviations, is more important than pure bandwidth. Unfortunately, WiFi is more vulnerable to occasional interference and fluctuations. This is why wireless transmission can experience occasional glitches even when enough bandwidth is available, which is much less likely for a cable connection. However, all this means is that playing over WiFi is potentially more vulnerable. In practice both variants can work equally well.

3. The alternative: FRITZ!Powerline

What if you would rather connect your FRITZ!Box with a cable, but your furnishings, walls or cable paths do not allow for such an option? In this case, FRITZ!Powerline offers a solution. Plug the adapter into a wall outlet near your FRITZ!Box and your gaming hardware. Then data transmission takes place over your electrical wiring. This allows you to combine the advantages of cable and WiFi: The data are shielded during transmission and not affected by deflection.

Yet with FRITZ!Powerline you also stay flexibe: All you need are two free wall outlets. The final screenshot shows how the transmission rate of FRITZ!Powerline 546E compares to the two other type of connection. You can see that download and upload speeds are only slightly less than those over the LAN connection.

Summary

Conclusion: The best option for gamers is cable. This is especially due to the importance of as constant a connection as possible. Disturbances in WiFi transmission can, but do not necessarily, have a negative effect on the stability of the connection or the speed of data transmission during gaming. The probability that disturbances will occur is greater for WiFi than for connections with the LAN cable. The faster the game and the more information has to be transmitted, the more packets have to be sent and received over the Internet connection. So frequent players are well advised to use a cable connection. And here FRITZ!Powerline offers a great alternative to laying long cables.

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