How to get the best gaming experience out of your home Wi-Fi
If, like me, you have teenagers at home keeping safe during the pandemic, I’m sure you’ve seen a significant increase in online gaming activities. Which is often associated with a similar increase in complaints about “lag”, or comments about “I keep getting killed”, or even fits of gamer rage!
But it needn’t be all doom and gloom. Here are a few tips that can improve the experience across PCs, consoles and mobile devices, which will hopefully keep the gaming tantrums to a minimum.
Spectrum selection: 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz
The 2.4 GHz band is the part of the wireless spectrum used by the first Wi-Fi standards. It makes use of overlapping sets of frequencies called "channels”. You’ll notice channels 1, 6 and 11 are in red; they represent the 3 channels that don’t overlap with each other and, therefore, typically are the best candidates to use since you’ll minimize the risks of interference with other Wi-Fi in the area. The 2.4 GHz band is also used by other wireless devices (baby monitors, security cameras, gaming headsets, etc.), and can be a noisy environment in densely populated areas, or in homes with many wireless products.
The 5 GHz Wi-Fi band on the other hand does not have overlapping channels, is much less crowded and can provide much greater capacity. However, it does so at the cost of reach; while you’ll get a better and faster signal on 5 GHz, it doesn’t travel as far as the 2.4 GHz band.
Your best bet is to first try and make use of 5 GHz on your device and default back to 2.4 GHz if the range is too far.
Stop paying a Wi-Fi “tax” with an extender
Wi-Fi extenders are a popular way to increase coverage throughout a home. They’re store and forward devices that use your Wi-Fi spectrum to relay traffic back to the main router, at the cost of speed and latency. Instead you should invest in a Wi-Fi “mesh” solution, which is a much more advanced and optimized way of extending Wi-Fi reach while reducing the Wi-Fi “tax” that comes with using an extender.
Not using Wi-Fi 6 yet? Consider using Ethernet for gaming consoles
Until the recently released Wi-Fi 6 standards, Wi-Fi was always a best-effort service which leads to a high degree of variability in throughput and, more importantly, latency. Wi-Fi 6 changes this dramatically by using OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access), which is used in cellular mobile networks, to provide much lower latency (as much as 75% in some cases). As Wi-Fi 6 is still nascent, current gaming consoles don’t yet support it. So, your best bet is to connect your Xbox, PS4, etc, to an Ethernet connection if at all possible. I know—your gaming console might not be anywhere near your Wi-Fi access-point, but this is where the previous advice about using a true Wi-Fi mesh comes in handy. Most Wi-Fi mesh nodes provide Ethernet ports, so simply place one close to your gaming console so you can take advantage of it.
QoS (Quality of Service) gaming optimizations
Another trick that will significantly help is to configure your Wi-Fi to prioritize certain types of traffic; in this case, gaming. This is a bit trickier and varies depending on your broadband provider. You’ll need to access the app or web interface of your Wi-Fi platform. Most vendors provide pre-configured QoS templates for the most popular games (Fortnite, Call of Duty, Apex Legends, etc.). You should be able to navigate the menu system to find the QoS gaming optimizations and select which games you want to prioritize. Once this is done, your Wi-Fi platform will start managing the traffic queues to give priority for what you’ve selected, reducing the infamous “lag” (latency), and providing a better gaming experience.
Hopefully these tips will help you—like they did me—reduce that teenager gaming rage!
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