Starlink Internet and Gaming – Does it Work?

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The biggest limitation of traditional satellite internet options for gaming is the high latency, more commonly called ping or lag, in online gaming. Latency is the time it takes for a data packet to go from one computer to another. For online gaming, latency is the most important part of the connection, even more so than download or upload speeds. This is because the data going between the server and your local game is not that large in size, but how long it takes for that data to travel back and forth has a major impact on your experience. In this article we are going to take a look at how Starlink works for gaming, and whether it improves on traditional satellite performance.

Factors of a Good Gaming Internet Connection

There are several performance factors that will tell you if your internet connection is good for gaming. It’s important to understand each one of them at a basic level so that we can look at Starlink and how it performs in each category when it comes to gaming.

Latency

Latency is the most important performance measurement when gaming. Have you ever heard the term lag or ping? Generally these terms are referring to latency. If you are lagging in a game, chances are your latency is high enough to where a button press on your controller doesn’t immediately register on the screen. Or perhaps other players in an online gaming session seem jittery, sluggish to react, or randomly disappear? These are all symptoms of lag, or high latency. Latency is simply the time it takes for your PC or console to send a data packet to the gaming server. The higher your latency time, the more problems like lag that you will have when gaming. 

Download Speed

When people talk about how fast their internet connection is, they are generally referring to the download speed. High download speed helps you transfer large files from the internet to your local PC or console. For gaming, download speed is less important than latency in terms of online gaming performance, but it is still critical that you have enough speed to be able to download the necessary files to install a game, and also to be able to transfer data back and forth for an online gaming session. The good news is that most online gaming sessions don’t need to send or receive that much data, making even slower connections like DSL suitable for online gaming. 

Upload Speed

Upload speed is the opposite of download speed. It’s how fast your PC or console can send data to another place over the internet. Whenever you are playing an online game, your character’s position, inventory, movements, and actions all have to be uploaded back to the game server so that other players around you can see what you are doing. Just like with download speed, most online games don’t require a ton of data to be uploaded, so upload speed is still less important than latency when it comes to gaming. 

Reliability/Uptime

The reliability of your internet connection is another top concern for gamers. After all, you can’t load up a multiplayer session if your connection is down. You can generally find uptime information on your router’s administration page, or possibly from your internet provider’s dashboard. Generally, terrestrial internet connections are going to be very reliable because of the hardwired connection, but some ISP’s are better than others. Satellite connections like Starlink tend to be less reliable because of the nature of satellites and receiver dishes. 

WIFI vs Ethernet

Your internet connection is only as good as the method in which your PC or console is connected to it! Hardwring by plugging your PC/console directly into the ethernet port is preferred for lower latency and higher speeds, but WIFI is certainly an option if you can’t run a cable. The main issue with WIFI is that, depending on the configuration, the wireless access point can cause many issues that people might attribute to their internet. Lag, low speeds, and reliability issues can all be symptoms of a WIFI problem and not your internet connection, so it’s important to research your specific WIFI system and make the appropriate configuration changes for maximum performance. 

Now that we’ve covered the basics of latency, how does Starlink perform? In our analysis we are going to look at two sources. Our objective, scientific source is a Speedtest.net report detailing Starlink performance. Our anecdotal source is the Starlink subreddit on Reddit, where users share their performance data for a variety of internet tasks such as gaming. 

Speedtest.net Latency Report

Ookla.com publishes a broadband report on a quarterly schedule, which includes performance metrics for Starlink. This data, in our opinion, is going to be the most reliable and best way to determine how Starlink might perform for you. For Q2 2022, the median latency for Starlink customers was 48ms. Compared to fixed broadband (fiber, cable, DSL) which came in at 14ms, that is not bad at all! The picture becomes clear when you compare the 48ms latency of Starlink to other satellite options, which are over 600ms. For gaming, latency under 100ms is ideal, so the latency performance of Starlink is satisfactory according to the Ookla report. You can check out the full report here.

If you head over to the Starlink subreddit on Reddit, you’ll find various anecdotal accounts of gaming performance in regards to latency. Our search over numerous threads shows that users report gaming latency between 30-120ms. This is obviously a large spread, and we should point out the obvious factors. First, user location and game server location have a huge impact on these latency figures. If a game developer only has servers on the east coast of the US and the Starlink user is on the west coast of the US, latency will consequently be on the higher side. It’s the same with fixed broadband. The bottom line is that take individual anecdotes with a grain of salt. If you combine the Speedtest.net latency report and Reddit user reports, one can be confident in saying that latency performance for Starlink is good for gaming. 

Although latency is the priority when it comes to online gaming, download and upload speed is important too. After all, you don’t want to spend hours downloading a game update. If you stream, you’ll want good upload speed in order for your viewers to have a smooth and quality looking experience. Let’s take a look at the Speedtest.net report that we mentioned previously.

The median download speed for Starlink users was 62.53 Mbps in Q2 2022. That is below the median fixed broadband result of 150 Mbps, but very respectable. It is especially good compared to other satellite options which are around 20 Mbps.

For upload speed, Starlink users had a median speed of 7.24 Mbps. Again, below fixed broadband options, but way ahead of other satellite internet companies. 

The bottom line for download and upload speed is that Starlink performs well and is perfectly acceptable for streaming and downloading your game content.

For more, check out our article on Starlink Internet Speeds.

The reliability of Starlink depends on many factors. In terms of the service itself, users report good reliability now that Starlink is out of beta status. Previously, in the public beta, users could expect minutes of planned and unplanned downtime each day. Now that the satellite constellation is more filled out and the beta period is over, users can expect zero to just a few seconds of interruptions each day, assuming nothing is obstructing the view of the sky. 

That being said, satellite internet does have inherent disadvantages. Heavy wind, rain, and snow can potentially cause your signal to degrade or even drop completely until the weather clears. Browsing user reports on the Starlink subreddit, it appears normal rain, snow, and wind gusts are not much of a concern. In fact, the dish can actually melt snow from the surface to avoid outages. 

Starlink is reliable enough for online gaming, but the caveats mentioned above need to be considered. 

We’ve gone over all the details about what makes a good gaming connection and whether Starlink performs well in each category of performance. Let’s summarize. 

If you have fixed broadband options like cable or fiber, that is going to be your best bet. It’s likely cheaper, more reliable, faster, and has lower latency. But if your only other options are DSL or another satellite internet company, Starlink is your obvious choice. It’s much faster than DSL, Hughsnet, or Viasat. Latency is good compared to DSL, and much better than other satellite options. Bottom line, pick fiber/cable if available, but Starlink is the best option for gaming if fiber/cable internet isn’t available

Yes! We are gamers here at Starlink Hardware. We are also Starlink customers. We can confidently recommend Starlink for gaming based on the objective data presented in this article as well as our own experience using the service. 

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