Internet Service Providers sometimes throttle Internet access for users that are doing certain online activities, such as gaming. The immediate impact of throttling can be frustrating to deal with in online games, as it introduces latency that may make it impossible to play. Games that require immediate reactions, such as first person shooters and multiplayer online battle arenas, become an exercise in futility without full access to the Internet resources that the gamer is paying for.
Why Do Some Internet Service Providers Throttle Online Activities
ISPs may have a “soft” data cap, which means that the subscriber gets full speed Internet up to a certain amount of bandwidth per month. After that number, they throttle the user’s activities across the board. While this type of cap is more often seen in mobile data sources, some home ISPs also have this measure in place. In some cases, the ISP is doing it to maintain traffic quality for everyone using their resources in a certain area. They have to throttle the high-volume users to make it possible for other people to access their Internet service reliably as well. Typically, this type of throttling goes into place during high demand periods, and can commonly be seen through cable Internet providers.
Other ISPs target specific types of web traffic, such as packets belonging to online games, torrenting, or video streaming. These traffic types require more resources from the ISP and may be treated differently from other types of web traffic. This approach causes major problems for online gamers, and it’s not always clear when these restrictions are in place through an ISP.
Methods to Bypass ISP Throttling
Gamers have two primary ways to bypass ISP throttling.
Choose Another ISP
One way is to choose another service provider that is known to welcome gaming traffic and other high-bandwidth online traffic without throttling it. Learning which ISPs do and do not throttle requires looking for detailed reviews of the services, ideally from networking professionals who can audit the companies and understand the technical information that they get through those tests.
If a gamer chooses a provider with no data caps, ensure that there are no “soft” caps in place prior to subscribing. If possible, choosing a FIOS internet service over a cable provider can decrease the possibility of being throttled, due to higher overall speed and the way the technology delivers service to each subscriber. When canceling service from the throttling ISP, make it clear that that’s the reason behind the move.
Unfortunately, many people don’t have the option of changing their ISP. Many areas have a limited selection of ISPs to choose from (in some cases, they only have one). While wireless data and satellite Internet are available, they typically have latency that’s too high for an online gamer to work with. The overall speeds are much slower than broadband Internet as well.
Use a VPN Service
A virtual private network service, or VPN, offers gamers a way to route their online traffic through that company’s servers. As part of this process, the VPN encrypts the data that’s being sent through its resources. The ISP can’t throttle specific traffic types when it’s completely unable to see what a person is doing online. This layer of protection won’t stop general throttling from happening, in the event that the ISP throttles all traffic that is past a certain point, but it does stop the specific targeting of gaming, streaming and torrent traffic.
If the ISP tries to tackle this workaround by throttling VPN specific traffic, the best VPN for gaming also has a feature that makes it impossible for the ISP to tell that the traffic comes from a VPN. It appears like a standard traffic source that wouldn’t need special handling as it moves through their infrastructure.
Other Benefits of VPNs
Getting around throttling isn’t the only benefit that gamers can get from a VPN service. Here are a few other areas where it helps out a lot.
Malicious actors can learn a lot about a person through their online activities, which can lead to targeted malware attacks against a particular gamer, or even being able to discover their address and “SWATTING” them, which involves calling in a false report to the local police or the FBI that results in a SWAT team being sent to the location. This occurrence can lead to a fatal outcome and is a threat that is on the back of many streaming and pro gamers’ minds. The VPN improves online privacy by making it difficult to learn the connecting IP address of the user. All of the traffic is encrypted as well, so they won’t be able to learn more about the person by looking at what they’re doing online.
Distributed denial of service attacks can force a gamer offline during important moments during their gaming session. This attack relies on knowing the person’s IP address, which would not be possible when the user is behind a VPN. The VPN itself also has protective measures in place in the event that this type of attack happens. Plus, they have hundreds or thousands of servers in place, so all the end user has to do is get routed to a different VPN server to avoid the problem entirely.
Access to Region Locked Content
For gamers who want to play on online servers in another country, they can choose the VPN that has servers in that country so they can reduce their latency and access those online resources. This feature is also helpful for people wanting to watch region locked content on Netflix and other online streaming services.
It’s not always possible to choose a new ISP that doesn’t restrict gaming traffic or have arbitrary data caps and throttling in place for high-bandwidth activities. Thankfully, everyone has access to a VPN service that can get around this frustrating issue so they can enjoy gaming without a hitch. Look for VPNs that offer high-performance and don’t have data caps in place for the best experience.