Cox has officially rolled out its own “Elite Gamer” internet add-on service in the U.S., something it started testing in April 2019 in select cities. Elite Gamer is a Gamers Private Network (GPN) that helps reduce lag while playing an online game. New and existing customers anywhere in the U.S. can now try Cox’s new service for an extra $7 a month if you are using your own modem. If you use Cox’s modem instead, its “Panoramic Wifi Gateway,” there’s no extra cost for Elite Gamer, but you will pay $11 a month to rent Cox’s all-in-one modem and router.
GPNs target gaming-specific internet traffic and attempt to route those data packets through a faster “path” to reduce lag. If you’ve ever played Apex Legends or World of Warcraft and noticed that there was a delay between pressing a key and your character reacting on screen, that’s because your gaming data packets had a long way to travel from your computer and back again to register the action you wanted to perform.
There are plenty of independent GPNs out there, like WTFast, but it appears this is Cox’s attempt to lure in more customers with the promise of lower lag. As it touted when it was in the testing phase, Cox still claims its GPN service can reduce lag by up to 32%. The problem is that, depending on how far away you live from a game’s server, a GPN may not be able to do anything to reduce your lag because your data packets are already routed along the shortest path. GPNs can only offer a better connection to the server if it’s better than what your ISP offers. And that goes for Cox’s own “Elite Gamer,” too. If you live in Irvine, California and want to lower your lag while playing Overwatch, you probably won’t see any results because of how close you are to both Cox’s and Blizzard’s servers. But if you live in Maricopa, Arizona, you might see less lag.
Also, some GPN services might detect their own ping to their own servers instead of the game server itself. With Cox now offering its own GPN, it’s unclear if this would be the case with it or not.
But unlike WTFast, which will attempt to reroute gaming data no matter what online game you are trying to play, Cox only supports specific games at the moment. It covers popular games like Fortnite, Overwatch, Valorant, etc. but other online games like Sea of Thieves, Heroes of the Storm, and Red Dead Online are left off.
Additionally, Cox’s Elite Gamer promo page only mentions PC gaming. There’s no indication if console gamers would have access to the same purported benefits as PC gamers. Gizmodo reached out to Cox for clarification and a spokesperson confirmed that Elite Gamer is for PC gaming only. Sorry, console gamers.
There’s also the question of how GPNs in general play into net neutrality. Cox told Engadget that its Elite Gamer service doesn’t “violate the spirit of net neutrality,” but Cox is charging some customers more per month for better service, even if it’s a small amount. Sure those same customers could pay an independent service like WTFast instead (which costs slightly more), but the situation is a little bit different because WTFast isn’t tied to any one ISP. Cox further clarified to Engadget, saying that instead of defining the data packets inside its network, it defines them once they leave the network, which is how WTFast and other GPNs work. But if you’re paying for a GPN in the first place, it’s likely because you live far enough away to suffer lag and want to reduce it. And those who can afford an extra $7 or $12 bucks a month, can put Cox’s claims to the test.