What is NAT?

Network Address Translation is the process used by your home router in order to allow all your devices to connect to the internet. If you intend to get involved in any online multiplayer gaming on home consoles or PCs, then the type of NAT you have will drastically change how good your experience will be.

What is NAT?

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NAT stands for Network Address Translation, and is something that is done by your home router to ensure that all the devices in your home can connect to the web. But why is it needed? In short, it's because of IP addresses, specifically IPv4 addresses that our systems have been using since the 1980s. An IP address needs to be unique to every device that connects to a network, and consists of four groups of up to three numbers - 192.168.111.123 is an example. However, this means that there's a limit to the amount of addresses available, and a lot are specially reserved for certain purposes. So we end up with around 4.3 billion IP addresses available, which might sound like an awful lot, but it's nowhere near enough.

Last year it's estimated that 1.8 billion mobile phones were sold. Add that to the numbers of PCs, tablets, TVs, business systems, smartwatches and other gadgets sold, and very quickly we run out of available spaces. To combat this, the IPv4 addresses are given to your internet provider, who will then use one IP address for your whole household. However, you can encounter problems when you have multiple devices accessing the internet in your household, as to the outside world they will all appear to be using the same address.

This is where NAT comes in. Your router will use NAT to keep a log of every request made to it from each individual device, and it then sends that request out to the world wide web. When your router receives a response from the web, it then sends it back to the correct device. Whilst this might sound a bit complicated, your router will do it so fast you'll never notice any delay. Complications can arise, however, if your router or service provider is more strict about exactly what and and how much traffic it allows to connect to your devices.

'Open', 'moderate' or 'strict' NAT?

There are three types of NAT you may have, and which one you have will dictate how good your online experience may be. Most games consoles will tell you within their network settings what type of NAT you have. A lot of PC games will also alert you if you have any NAT problems. Ideally you will want an OPEN type. Here's what each one means:

Open NAT

This is the best type, and means you can host games and connect with other players no matter what type of NAT they have. You should also have no lag in games and less chance of disconnections. Video chat should also work smoothly, with no problems hearing people or them hearing you.

Moderate NAT

This is still OK, and you can connect with most people. However, you may see an increase in game lag, slower connections, and video chat will give varying results. In most cases, games will not allow you to be a host.

Strict NAT

This is the worst type to have as you'll only be able to connect to players who have an open NAT. You will never be chosen to host matches and voice communication will be very hit and miss. There is also an increase in game lag and the chances of you being disconnected during gameplay.

So how does my NAT affect my games?

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When doing any kind of online multiplayer gaming, your device, be it a console or PC, will be connecting with hundreds of other online players across the world. In order for this to work smoothly, your router has to know exactly where and to which device it has to send all the information. Unfortunately, not all routers have an Open NAT, so it can mean certain services may not work very well - or even at all.

Players of games such as Call of Duty will be familiar with the NAT Type that shows when searching for online games, and anything other than Open will lead to a lousy connection to other players and a miserable score at the end of the match. But what else can be affected by NAT? Here are some features that you will notice don't perform well with anything except an Open NAT:

Game lag

You may see players that seem to skip or jump across the screen as your device tries to keep up with them. Attempts to shoot other players may also be delayed, meaning you miss the shot or they get you before you can even see them on screen. This is the worst effect on your games and can make them very frustrating to play.

Searching for matches

A stricter NAT can mean finding and connecting to a match takes a very long time: sometimes 10 or more minutes just to find players. The reason for this is that the NAT type you have will limit the types of players you can connect with.

Voice chat

You will notice that your ability to hear players or have them hear you is affected by what type of NAT you have. This can be particularly annoying if you're in a party with friends and one of you cannot hear or be heard.

Kicked from games

NAT Type affects the quality of your connection with other players. This means that if games have filters in place to try and prevent low-quality connections, you may get kicked from some matches.

Host/Server errors

Like above, a poorer quality connection to other players can mean that if your connection gets too bad, you may end up leaving the game due to server or host errors.

Can I change my NAT?

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If you do not have an Open NAT and are experiencing a poor online multiplayer experience, then there may be some ways to change your NAT. You can adjust settings on your router itself to try and allow your device more direct access to the outside world, and your ISP may even be able to provide help or change it for you.

If you want to try changing your NAT, then I'd recommend running through Microsoft's NAT Error solution guide. Even though it's aimed primarily at Xbox One, the troubleshooting steps advised after the first page are designed for any connection type and device, as they involve checking your home router and Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The main feature you'll be adjusting on your router will be setting up something known as port forwarding. Port forwarding basically adds a special exception to your router to allow your device a better connection to the outside world, and in a lot of cases can ensure your NAT is open for your gaming device. Port forwarding methods vary considerably depending on the make and model of your router, so take a good look at the excellent Port Forward, a website that is full of guides on the ins and outs of getting this set up.

So that's everything you need to know about NAT. Any more questions? Drop us a line through our contact forms

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