If you live in an area that doesn’t offer cable or fiber internet, satellite internet may be your only choice. There are several services in 2023 that you can choose from. Viasat and HughesNet have been market leaders for years. More recently, SpaceX’s Starlink internet was launched, and is expanding globally.
While you might have several options for which satellite internet service to go with, do any of them actually work for gaming? There are many differences between wired connections and satellite connections when it comes to gaming.
In this article, I will go over the factors that affect gaming performance. Then I will take a look at the three major satellite ISP’s to see how they perform in these areas.
Factors that affect gaming
Satellite internet is unique because of the vast distances that data must travel to go from your home to a game server. Some satellite internet services install their satellites in geosynchronous orbit, thousands of miles above the earth. Let’s take a look at the major factors that influence online gaming performance when using satellite internet.
Latency, or ping, is the time it takes data to go from your home to another computer. In the context of gaming, it’s the time it takes for data to go to and from your game to the game server. The lower the latency number, the better. For gaming, under 100 ms is ideal.
You may have heard the term lag, which refers to some of the negative effects of high latency. If you think about a first-person shooter, imagine it takes half a second for data to travel from the game server to your PC. If you come head to head with an enemy player, all your movements are way behind what is actually happening because of the significant time delay.
Median Satellite ISP Latency:
Starlink: 48 ms
HughesNet: 716 ms
Viasat: 631 ms
Starlink is way ahead of the competition when it comes to latency. The amount of time it takes to send and receive data using HughesNet and Viasat is over 10x that of Starlink. That’s one of the reasons why Starlink is really the only satellite internet service that is compatible with online gaming.
Packet loss and reliability
Packet loss happens when data coming to or from your home is corrupted, lost, or incomplete. Imagine our first-person shooter scenario from above. If you moved your character three steps left, but some of those data packets were lost, the game server might only think you moved two. When your position is updated again, suddenly the game has to correct your location, causing lag.
There are no objective data sources to compare Starlink, HughesNet, and Viasat for packet loss and reliability. But we can say that generally, higher latency leads to higher packet loss. Due to Starlink’s lower latency, the chances of packet loss are also lower.
As for reliability, each of the three satellite ISP’s are susceptible to weather events like rain and snow. Anything that blocks the signal to satellites will cause outages for satellite internet users. With any satellite internet service, gaming can be interrupted during adverse weather.
The final factor of importance for online gaming is download and upload speeds. Your connection needs to be fast enough to send and receive data from the game server in a timely manner. Without enough speed, you could end up with packet loss, which we talked about above. For gaming, the higher the upload and download speed, the better.
Median Satellite ISP Speed:
Starlink: 62 mbps down, 7 mbps up
HughesNet: 22 mbps down, 3 mbps up
Viasat: 23 mbps down, 3 mbps up
As you can see, Starlink again is way ahead of the other satellite internet companies. The median download speed of HughesNet and Viasat is about 1/3 the speed of Starlink. You’ll be able to download games and content much faster using Starlink. Online gaming performance will also be better, due to the higher upload speed.
Is satellite internet good enough for gaming?
Based on the factors I outlined above, it is safe to say that Starlink satellite internet is good enough for gaming. The main factor is latency, or the time it takes for data to travel back and forth from the game server. Median Starlink latency is under 50 ms, while HughesNet and Viasat are over 10 times that number.
It is simply impractical to game online using other satellite internet service providers, like HughesNet and Viasat. Some types of games may work fine on HughesNet or Viasat. Turn based games, which don’t rely on fast or accurate player movement, will probably work fine. But shooters, racing, and sports games will not work correctly on the more traditional satellite internet networks.
Satellite vs other internet options
If you have several choices when it comes to internet access, it’s important to understand the difference between various types of internet services. When it comes to online gaming, each type of internet has advantages and disadvantages.
Fixed broadband – Fiber, cable
Fixed broadband, which includes wired connections like DSL, fiber, and cable internet, tend to be faster and more reliable than satellite internet. The latency is also lower, leading to an improved online gaming experience.
Median Fixed Broadband Performance:
Speed: 150 mbps down, 21 mbps up
Latency: 14 ms
Generally, fixed broadband is going to be the best internet option for online gaming. The speed, latency, and reliability are superior to other internet options, including satellite.
Another popular internet option is wireless data. This can be 5G home internet, or mobile data plans using tethering, mobile hotspot mode, or a dedicated hotspot device.
Median Wireless Performance:
5G Speed: 191 mbps (T-Mobile 5G)
4G LTE Speed: 34 mbps (AT&T)
Latency varies, and isn’t available from the data source. But wireless latency can be similar to fixed broadband, and usually isn’t high enough to cause lag issues when gaming online. The main disadvantage to wireless internet is the limited data options and speed throttling. Many wireless carriers will slow down your speeds when you hit a certain data usage amount, which can negatively affect online gaming performance.