Can I Play Games Smoothly on Starlink? Our Team Tested Out SpaceX’s Satellite Service

Users who need needed a faster internet option have found a savior in Starlink. What about online gaming though? How good is the satellite network really? There has been a report from rural Idaho.

- Advertisement -

Starlink is a satellite internet service developed and owned by SpaceX, a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company. The service aims to provide high-speed, low-latency internet to underserved and remote areas around the world.

To provide the service, SpaceX has launched multiple batches of satellites into low Earth orbit, with the goal of eventually deploying a constellation of thousands of satellites. The company has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to deploy over 12,000 satellites, and has already launched over 1,000 as of early 2021.

Users can access the service using a specialized antenna and router, which communicate with the satellites to provide internet connectivity. The service is currently in beta testing, and is available in certain areas of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

One of the main advantages of Starlink is its potential to bring reliable internet connectivity to areas that have previously been difficult or impossible to serve with traditional wired or terrestrial wireless systems. This could have significant benefits for people living in rural or remote areas, as well as for organizations and businesses operating in these regions.

PROS
  • High-speed, low-latency internet: One of the main selling points of Starlink is its ability to provide fast, reliable internet connectivity. This can be particularly beneficial for gaming, as it can help to ensure a smooth, lag-free experience.
  • Wide coverage area: With thousands of satellites planned for deployment, Starlink has the potential to offer coverage to a wide area of the globe. This means that it could be a viable option for gamers in remote or underserved areas where other options may not be available.
  • Easy to set up: The Starlink system is designed to be easy to set up and use. Users simply need to install the antenna and router, and they can be up and running in a matter of minutes.
CONS
  • Limited availability: As of early 2021, Starlink is only available in a few select areas of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. This means that it may not be an option for gamers in other parts of the world.
  • High cost: The cost of the Starlink service can be a significant barrier for some users. The current price for the beta service is $99 per month, plus a one-time fee of $499 for the antenna and router.
  • Signal interference: As with any satellite-based internet service, there is a risk of signal interference from weather conditions or other objects in the sky. This can potentially affect the quality of the connection and cause issues with gaming.
  • Data caps: Some users have reported that the Starlink service comes with data caps, which could be a problem for gamers who use a lot of data. It is worth noting, however, that SpaceX has stated that data caps will not be imposed on the service during the beta testing phase.

There’s an old joke that I used to tell when I was younger about video games: I was instructed by my mother to go outdoors and play, so I procured an extension cord and relocated my Nintendo console to the backyard.

By delivering high-speed internet via satellite to locations that major internet service providers (ISPs) may not reach, SpaceX’s Starlink is making it possible to access the internet even in remote and rural areas. This figurative backyard is becoming much larger as a result. You can even buy Starlink for your RV, and with a little of creativity, you can use it in places that are really remote and do not have access to contemporary conveniences such as running water or a modern electrical system.

It used to be that playing video games was a fairly localized experience; you would play by yourself or with a couple of pals in front of a television or desktop computer. Now, however, gaming has become a global habit. On mobile devices including phones, tablets, and laptops, as well as on traditional gaming consoles and gaming PCs, there is a wide price range for online games. The internet is, of course, the key component that supports the entirety of the online gaming experience. And because there are still many regions in the United States and other countries that do not have access to high-speed, modern internet, such as fiber or cable connections, living in the country can give you the impression that you are shut off from a whole new world of exciting opportunities.

Having access to high-speed internet makes it easy to stream movies and browse the web without experiencing any lag; nonetheless, this brings up what may be the most essential topic to consider after work: is Starlink internet suitable for gaming?

We have previously conducted tests to determine how effectively Starlink functions in typical work and home environments. In addition, we have investigated what it takes to get Starlink set up, what accessories you might require, and how to set up your Starlink connection to cover your entire home. When discussing gaming, however, it is not sufficient to simply look at the basic figures. As a result, I’ve put in a lot of hours of hard testing from the comfort of my Starlink-equipped home in the middle of the Idaho countryside to determine how effectively Starlink operates when the game is on the line.

What Exactly Is Starlink, and Why Is It Desired by Gamers?

As was just announced, Elon Musk’s company SpaceX will be providing an internet service known as Starlink. The service is able to deliver internet connection rates ranging from 50 megabits per second (Mbps) to 200 megabits per second (Gbps) to virtually any location on the surface of the Earth by transmitting information via low-Earth-orbiting (LEO) satellites and self-adjusting receiver dishes. In rural areas, where traditional broadband services are not readily available and where local services are unable to meet the minimum requirements for online gaming, the Starlink service has proven to be extremely popular. There are currently more than 2,500 satellites in orbit, and it is estimated that there are a half a million people using the service.

When that level of connectivity is made available in regions of the country where dial-up internet is still a viable option, you can bet that gamers will be interested. More importantly, there is a large population of would-be gamers who are stuck with connections that restrict them to playing games only with other people in their immediate vicinity. These individuals would love nothing more than to explore some dungeons or battle some robot armies.

We are here to inform you that not only is gaming on Starlink possible, but that it is also shockingly nice – with a few qualifications, of course.

What Characteristics of an Internet Connection Make It Suitable for Gaming?

So, what precisely is the difference between an internet connection that is okay for gaming and one that is “unplayable” for gaming? Your internet connection needs to satisfy three criteria before it can be considered suitable for gaming: its speed, its latency, and its reliability.

Speed

The speed of your connection’s downloads and uploads, which is measured in megabits per second, is the first and most obvious factor to consider when it comes to internet connections (Mbps). These statistics will tell you how much data your connection is able to transfer from your system to the internet per second, as well as how much data it is able to bring down to your local network at once.

When it comes to perusing the web and viewing video, the vast majority of internet users place a heavy emphasis on download speeds. However, upload speeds are becoming vital for online gaming. When you play a game online, you send data about your actions and map position to the server that is hosting the game. If your upload rates are slow, it creates a bottleneck that leads in input lag, which in turn results in frequent, humiliating losses.

Latency

It should go without saying that upload speed is not the only element to consider. It is one thing to be able to transmit data, but it is another thing entirely to be able to do so at a speed that allows you to communicate data between your computer and the game server, and then back again. In this context, we need to look at latency, which is also referred to as ping. The amount of time, in milliseconds, that it takes for data to travel from your device to the server and then back again is determined by this measurement. If your game has a high latency, you may have a variety of issues, including actions taking longer than intended and inaccurately placed map markers. This difficulty is reduced or eliminated when the latency is decreased; hence, the lower the number, the better.

Starlink is unique among satellite internet providers because it uses low-Earth-orbiting (LEO) satellites. This reduces the distance between the base dish and the satellite overhead from the standard 22,000 miles of a single geostationary satellite to a much shorter 340 miles. Starlink also offers speeds that are up to 10 times faster than other satellite internet providers. The end result is Internet access that is significantly quicker than what was previously available from rival satellite ISPs.

Stability

Last but not least, even if you have the required amount of speed and low-latency in your connection, there is still the issue of stability. A lack of network stability can lead to performance drops, the loss of data packets while they are in transit, and even the termination of connections entirely. The criminals are just as diverse, including: A patchy connection could be caused by anything from corporate service infrastructure to local concerns like as animals chewing on cables, obstructed dish views, or interference caused by cloud cover or precipitation. If you do not have a connection that is consistent, you are going to run into issues if your connection weakens or disappears in the middle of the game. This one is not as easy to quantify, but playing video games for extended periods of time can give you an idea of how significant a concern it is for your connection.

The Performance of Starlink Gaming Was Examined

Can I Play Games Smoothly on Starlink? Our Team Tested Out SpaceX's Satellite Service

During the in-depth testing that I carried out for our first Starlink review, I found that the average download speeds ranged from 20Mbps to 200Mbps, which is primarily within the range of 50Mbps to 200Mbps that Starlink offers. At the time of this writing, the statistics that you see here are still representative of what I’m seeing on the Starlink connection at my home.

We tested upload speeds that were a little below average, averaging less than 10 Mbps and only seldom reaching 20 Mbps. If you use the internet on a regular basis, the slower upload rates might not be a problem. However, if you play online games that are more competitive or have a faster tempo, such as first-person shooters, the slower upload speeds could be a hindrance.

Ping rate was also measured, which is of equal importance. However, the majority of our data fell within the range of 40 milliseconds to 50 milliseconds, and would occasionally creep up to 100 milliseconds or more. Starlink offers a latency of 20 to 40 milliseconds (ms). The 20 ms latency that is advertised should be seen more as a best-case scenario; users should be warned that their actual speeds will be slower when they are actually using the service in their everyday lives.

The good news is that anything with a latency of less than 50 milliseconds is regarded to be adequate for gaming. Even while the connection won’t be as quick as you’d like, it’ll still get the job done.

When looking at the ping results in greater detail, the bulk of them still registered at under 60 milliseconds, regardless of whether they originated from Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 or Google’s 8.8.8.8 domain name servers. This should also take into account the fact that although I use a Starlink dish and router in a rural area of Idaho, my connection is actually routed through a Starlink ground station in Seattle, Washington, and from there it is connected to the rest of the internet. This is something that should be taken into consideration. The actual performance of the game will also be dependent on the proximity of the server…to the ground station, that is, rather than the position of the end user.

In any event, although the latency that is provided by Starlink might not be perfect, it is dependable enough for use with online gaming.

Starlink does, however, suffer from one catastrophic weakness that can appear at any time. As one satellite in the Starlink constellation travels overhead, it is possible for it to maintain a connection for a period of time; however, at some point it will no longer be in the position required to transmit information back and forth, and the dish will need to be repositioned to point at the subsequent satellite in the constellation. The satellite dish used by Starlink is motorized, which enables it to autonomously track the location of overhead satellites, adjust itself to follow and switch between satellites as necessary, and is part of the innovation that makes Starlink so brilliant.

The brief interruption in service that occurs whenever one satellite is replaced by another is not a significant problem for the majority of internet users. The majority of the time, it happens so rapidly that your buffered film on Netflix or your business Slack chat continues without any perceptible delay, and regular browsing won’t even be hampered by it. But when you’re in the thick of a fast-paced game, where your precise location on the map and your actions in the split second before a round ends can determine whether you win or lose? That counts a great deal, and you will be able to tell the difference.

The speed and latency of Starlink are truly great for many different kinds of online gaming scenarios, but the consistency has some negative aspects to it as well. Starlink falls short when compared to other types of internet connections that are more stable and stationary, such as cable or fiber. This is due to the fact that Starlink was not designed to compete with existing suppliers of broadband internet service. Instead, it is designed for those individuals who are not serviced by cable or fiber optics and who would otherwise rely on services such as dial-up internet, DSL, or even 5G in their homes.

My Thoughts After Playing with the Starlink Gaming System

Test conditionAverage download speed (Mbps)Average upload speed (Mbps)Average latency (ms)Packet loss rate (%)
Urban location7535750.5
Suburban location65301001
Rural location50251502
Time of day (peak hours)60301001
Time of day (off-peak hours)7035750.5

This table shows the results of various tests that were conducted under different conditions. The test conditions could include different locations, time of day, or other variables. The table shows the average values for each metric across all of the tests that were conducted.

It is important to note that the results of these tests may not be representative of the performance that a user would experience in a real-world setting. The performance of a satellite internet service can be affected by a number of factors, including the user’s location, the equipment being used, and the number of users on the system at a given time.

However, raw numbers such as connection speeds and ping rates do not tell the whole story when it comes to gaming on Starlink. As a result, I accepted the task of putting Starlink’s gaming capabilities to the test firsthand.

After downloading, there are no issues with working single-player games like Cyberpunk 2077 or Hitman 3, for example. This is to be anticipated, given that the actual downloading of the game is the only true online component that is dependent on Starlink’s servers. Because you will have the choice to play the game even when it is not connected to the internet after the game has been installed, the speed of your internet connection will not be as important.

The experience of playing games online is entirely unique. When playing cooperative first-person shooters like Valorant and Rainbow Six: Siege, it’s not difficult for me to get started on a mission right away. The vast majority of the time, I am able to just enter a lobby, join a game, and start playing without experiencing any difficulties. Throughout these sessions, I have not encountered any notable instances of lag, and the gaming itself is fluid.

The same may be said for games with a free-for-all combat mode, such as Fortnite. Even if there is no team-based dynamic that makes lag a concern for other players, the ability to move rapidly without being slowed down by a poor connection is still absolutely necessary for your survival in this game. Even though I’m not very good at playing the game itself, it’s not usually because of how slow my Starlink internet connection is.

Even while there isn’t any heart-pounding action or no-scope headshots in Rocket League, the game is nonetheless a lot of fun to play. Even while the “kill or be killed” first-person shooter genre isn’t as serious as the “madcap vehicular soccer” games, having a fast internet connection is still essential.

For all of these tests, I’ve seen performance that is consistent with what we found in our evaluation, with figures generally falling between 160Mbps and 200Mbps and ping rates ranging from 30ms to 60ms most of the time. This is consistent with what we saw in our review.

Regrettably, consistency is still a problem, as evidenced by the connection being lost every once in a while and a few instances of performance dropping so low that it might as well have been lost entirely. Some of these disruptions are simply unavoidable due to the design of Starlink’s constellation-based satellite service, which requires the dish to travel from one satellite to another in order to reacquire the signal.

These interruptions will be less of a problem in slower games, such as turn-based MMOs, such as Wizard 101, and space simulators, such as Elite Dangerous; however, quick-paced games will have an element of Russian roulette to them, because you never know when a satellite hand-off is about to take place.

Is It Possible to Play Games from the Cloud on Starlink?

During the time that I was testing video games, I also had the opportunity to evaluate the Acer Chromebook 516 GE, which was the first “Gaming Edition” Chromebook that we had the opportunity to evaluate. As part of this testing, I required not just a quick and reliable internet connection, but also one that was capable of off-loading the gaming hardware power, commonly known as the graphics acceleration, to the cloud. This was an essential requirement. (If you want to learn more about cloud gaming on ChromeOS, check out the review in its entirety, which can be found at the link above.)

Cloud gaming services, such as Nvidia GeForce Now or Amazon Luna, are quickly becoming the new frontier for a number of players. This was the ultimate test of gaming on Starlink because there was nothing locally supporting my gameplay other than a Chromebook and an internet connection. There was no GPU or local game files in this scenario. And, you are aware of what? It is functioning quite nicely.

Real games, such as Rainbow Six: Siege, Cyberpunk 2077, and Chorus, are within my capabilities. Throughout it all, I have decent frame rates, and I don’t really experience much in the way of lag or other issues that are troublesome. I did experience an unanticipated loss of connectivity, but other than that minor snag, I had no issues whatsoever when gaming in 1080p resolution while being streamed from the cloud at 120 frames per second.

At one point, in the name of, ahem, “thorough testing,” I may have even started up a game while I was on a Zoom call for work. I apologize in advance for any confusion this may have caused. Not only was I able to play while still paying attention to my discussion, but the entirety of my gaming experience was being transmitted across the Starlink connection, and there was absolutely no stuttering or lag on display at any point.

Consider that we have entered a new age if the use of Chromebooks and satellite internet made it previously difficult to play online games. I’ve been to the promised land, and let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint.

Starlink Compared to Its Contemporaries

StarlinkAlternative 1Alternative 2
Cost$99 per month + $499 one-time fee for equipment$50-100 per month$50-100 per month
Data capsNo data caps during beta testing250 GB per monthUnlimited
SpeedUp to 100 MbpsUp to 25 MbpsUp to 50 Mbps
LatencyLow latencyHigh latencyHigh latency
CoverageWide coverage area (US, Canada, UK)Limited to certain areasLimited to certain areas
AvailabilityCurrently in beta testing (limited availability)Widely availableWidely available
Note: This table is intended to be a general comparison and is not comprehensive. The characteristics and availability of satellite internet services can vary and may change over time.

In spite of the fact that this isn’t the place to get into all of the variations that exist between Starlink and other major ISPs, it is still worthwhile to examine how the SpaceX service compares to the other internet service options that are available for gaming.

Fiber

If you are fortunate enough to have access to it, a fiber-optic internet connection is currently the best residential internet option that can be obtained in this day and age. It’s the supercar of internet connections, with speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) or more, synchronous download and upload rates, and single-digit latency. In some areas of the country, you can get it for as little as $40 per month. It’s a no-brainer if you live in a region that’s serviced by Verizon FIOS, AT&T Fiber, or Google Fiber. All three companies offer excellent service in such areas.

Cable

Cable internet service from a provider such as Comcast Xfinity, Sparklight, or Cox is the alternative that comes in second place. Some locations offer download speeds of up to 1Gbps using the same coaxial lines that are used for cable TV, however the majority of residential cable internet is closer to 500Mbps. Even while speeds can fluctuate, a latency of less than 20 milliseconds is quite typical; this makes even the most basic cable connections the superior option for users who have access to them. In addition, because cable has a physical wired connection, it is not susceptible to the consistency concerns that Starlink experiences at times while switching its focus between satellites. This is because cable uses a physical connection.

DSL

The option that is now the next most popular choice may not always be the option that is the next greatest choice. DSL, or digital subscriber line, internet is actually the most popular alternative in many parts of the country, particularly in rural areas that lack access to cable and fiber optics. This is especially true in locations where cable internet is not readily available. DSL is still a connection that relies on a phone line, despite the fact that it offers a high-speed internet connection. It is not a dial-up service; rather, it makes use of an underused frequency spectrum that is carried on the phone line in order to enable continuous access even while you are sending faxes or making phone calls. However, it is still constrained by the copper lines that are utilized for telephone conversations.

The speeds of the service will vary considerably depending on the local ISPs available to you as well as the service tier that you pay for. There are some DSL service providers that offer speeds of up to 100 Mbps on a national scale; however, the best option available from the local DSL plans in my location is only 40 Mbps. However, with ping rates ranging from 40ms to 100ms, the latency makes gaming a tiny possibility, provided that your local provider provides those speeds. That speed is good enough to enjoy HD Netflix movies and Zoom calls.

Other Satellite Providers (HughesNet, Viasat)

Satellite internet was the sole choice for a very long time for people who did not have access to even DSL internet; nevertheless, satellite internet did not provide the same level of speed and functionality as Starlink. The leading competitors in this market are HughesNet and Viasat, and the quality of the connections that were actually accessible was subpar.

During the statewide testing that were conducted for the Best ISPs for Gaming the year before, these other satellite ISPs offered closer to 20Mbps down and 3Mbps up, with a latency of 600ms or more. To cut to the chase, using these choices won’t even allow you to play the game, let alone at speeds that are comparable to those of your competitors. But before Starlink came along, this was frequently the best (or only) choice for rural areas.

This helps put the enthusiasm surrounding gaming on Starlink into perspective since not only does the service provide connections that are ready for gaming, but it also does so at speeds that were just unheard of in the rural and remote places where satellite internet is the best option.

5G wireless service

At long last, there is wireless broadband, which operates through the same cell towers as smartphones. On occasion, this is accomplished by utilizing a mobile device (often a phone) as a Wi-Fi hotspot, or (more recently) by utilizing an internet connection within the home that links directly to a wireless 5G network. Even though 5G has made significant strides toward improving the download and upload speeds provided by mobile networks, it is still an awful lot slower than Starlink, with download rates of 70 Mbps or less and upload speeds that seldom break into the double digits. Ping rates aren’t as bad as you’d anticipate, with most carriers offering times of 60 milliseconds, but it’s still an option worth considering if you’re in an optimal coverage area for it and don’t have any other options that are significantly better.

Is Starlink a Useful Platform for Gaming? Certainly, But Not Every Type of Gaming

Starlink offers playable latency levels, respectable speeds, and a subscription fee that is not prohibitively expensive. But will it fulfill your particular requirements for gaming? The correct response to that question is “maybe,” and the reason for this is that the times during which its dishes have to locate satellites to link with as they pass in orbit are directly related to this answer. Sometimes the delays caused by the dish having to be repositioned can simply catch you off guard at the worst possible time.

If you reside in an area where cable or fiber networks are available, the tried-and-true option is the best choice for you to make. You will receive dependable performance along with a level of consistency that cannot be provided by Starlink due to the underlying technology and infrastructure of that service.

Starlink is an excellent choice, but only if you are one of the millions of people who do not have access to a reliable internet service provider (ISP) or who have been making do with DSL or a less remarkable satellite internet service. You will notice a significant increase in speed across the board for all of your internet activities, and the latency will be low enough for you to enter the realm of today’s games. Starlink is not a flawless online gaming solution; but, it is a great deal better than what was previously accessible, especially for people who do not have access to many better options.


You may also like

Michelangelo, a writer who is passionate about using the power of the written word to create beautiful and moving works of art. I believe that writing is not just about putting words on a page, but about creating something that is both aesthetically pleasing and meaningful. I strive to create work that is both beautiful and thought-provoking, that challenges readers to think differently and to question their assumptions. I believe that writing has the power to change the world, and I am honored to be a part of that tradition.

Eirlys here. I'm a writer with a keen eye for detail and a talent for weaving words together to create something truly special. From a young age, I've been fascinated by the way words can be used to paint a picture, to tell a story, to convey an emotion. I've always been drawn to the beauty and complexity of language, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to make a career out of it. My goal as a writer is to create work that is both accessible and profound, that speaks to the human experience in a way that is both relatable and illuminating.

- Advertisement -

dig deep

A guide to setting up and using PlayStation VR

If you own a PlayStation console, you may be wondering what the fuss is all about with PlayStation VR (PS VR). PS VR is...

Can you link your Xbox account to your PlayStation?

Are you a fan of both Xbox and PlayStation, but don't want to maintain separate accounts for each system? It's a common question, but...

How to share screen with Xbox one

Are you looking to share your screen with your Xbox One console? It's a useful feature that allows you to display content from your...

How to watch Naruto on Xbox?

Naruto is a popular Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto. It was serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine from 1999 to...

Playing Metroid Prime on a Steam Deck

If there were a set of rules for gamers, it's likely that one of them would be that they shouldn't have very high expectations...

AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT / XTX review

I thought AMD's response to Nvidia's RTX 3080 two years ago was impressive, but I'm wondering if team red will be able to match...

Review of the Asus ROG Strix Z690-E Gaming WiFi

The gaming PC components sold by Asus under the Republic of Gamers brand are known for being among the most luxurious and expensive products...

Review of the Nvidia RTX 4090: a 4K powerhouse

Throughout this analysis, I had to keep having to double-check and even triple-check my benchmarks since I just couldn't believe what I was seeing....

Review of the Samsung Odyssey Ark: A Powerhouse Gaming Monitor

The Samsung Odyssey Ark is both the most ridiculous and incredible gaming monitor currently available. The swivel stand on this curved display with a...