SpaceX Starlink officially exited its public beta testing program in October of 2021. Elon Musk’s much anticipated tech startup took the world by storm with it “Better Than Nothing” Beta launch. The launch was highly successful and Starlink is now available to the general public. Starlink aims to provide high speed internet service that is available across the entire earth, including extreme rural areas that lack access to broadband presently. Currently SpaceX has about 2,300 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites in active service with plans to increase that number to up to 42,000 in the coming years.
The LEO satellites are only a few hundred miles above the earth enabling much lower latency (ping) than traditional satellite internet services. Other services including HughesNet and Viasat use satellites about 22,000 miles above the earth. The round trip to and from the satellite adds considerable latency to data flow. Starlink currently offers latency in the 30 – 50 ms which is similar to DSL and some cable internet connections. Starlink currently provides speeds that average about 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload. This is also much better than competing satellite internet providers. With the higher bandwidth and lower latency many people are asking about gaming on Starlink. Is it really possible to game using Starlink?
Fortunately, yes it is possible to game on Starlink. It offers a good experience most of the time with a few caveats. For some people without access to broadband, Starlink is already a game changer. Gaming on Starlink does pose a few challenges that you should be aware of.
This is the big question. How is gaming performance on Starlink? As it stands right now, performance is good most of the time but unexpected drops are a definite issue, even after the “better than nothing” beta period. Starlink said that occasional drops averaging several seconds were to be expected until more satellites are launched to enhance coverage and stability. For gaming these drops are extremely frustrating but relatively infrequent.
Another potential downside of using Starlink for gaming is the use of CGNAT. Starlink uses CGNAT to assign IP addresses to subscribers. This is generally okay and the same method used by cellular carriers to assign IP addresses.
The issue is for people that are looking to get an “Open NAT Type” on a PlayStation or Xbox console. With CGNAT it is not possible to get an Open NAT Type without using a VPN service. In most cases CGNAT will result in an automatic “Strict NAT Type”. This just something to be aware of.
If you wish to get an Open NAT Type using Starlink your best option is using a quality VPN provider. The VPN provider that in my experience works best for gaming is ExpressVPN. They offer servers in North America for optimal performance and also offer servers globally which can be used to access geo-restricted content. ExpressVPN also offers a 30 risk free money back guarantee. If you are not satisfied you do not pay.
Starlink is currently is providing between 80 Mbps and 150 Mbps of download speed. This is significantly higher than many DSL plans, and other satellite internet providers which typically top out at about 20 Mbps. Real world speed tests have shown download speeds of about 100 Mbps being typical. Starlink says they these speeds to increase as more LEO satellites are launched into orbit. They also talk about the idea of offering gigabit speeds in coming years.
Most online gaming platforms including Xbox Live and PlayStation Network require a minimum of about 3 Mbps of download speed, and recommend a minimum of 10 Mbps for optimal performance. This means that the download speeds offered by Starlink far exceed these requirements and will pose no difficulty whatsoever.
The higher download speeds also make for much faster game downloads which can truly benefit from the extra speed. Downloading “Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” a 190 Gig download over Starlink would take about 4 hours 20 minutes . This same download would take over a day on most DSL connections. Fiber or cable based broadband will likely be faster, but download speeds are impressive for Starlink nonetheless.
Download speeds with Starlink is more than enough for any online gaming platform and definitely a great selling point for Starlink’s satellite internet service.
Upload speeds are usually in the 20 Mbps – 30 Mbps range. This is comparable to many cable based internet connections, but much lower than typical for a fiber based connection. It is also 10 – 40 times as fast as DSL for uploads. The upload bandwidth requirement for smooth online gaming is only about 1 Mbps. This means that Starlink provides more than enough upload bandwidth for online gameplay on all major gaming platforms.
Starlink upload bandwidth is also sufficient for video conferencing applications and for game streaming to platforms such as Twitch.
Latency is the most important factor in determining online gaming performance. Anyone who plays online multiplayer games certainly knows all too well what happens when your latency (ping) suddenly spikes.
Fortunately latency with Starlink is in the 30 – 50 ms which is similar to DSL and some cable internet connections. This is low enough for most online games to play smoothly. Starlink has a slightly higher ping than most fiber based internet connection and many cable based internet connections. That said even a 50 ms ping is more than acceptable to most gamers.
Prior to Starlink gaming over satellite internet was all but impossible. Typical latency with competing services is in the 500+ ms range. This is completely unusable for online multiplayer gaming. The latency with Starlink is also expected to decrease slightly as more LEO satellites are launched into orbit in coming years.
Stability is often an overlooked factor when it comes to gaming performance. Packet loss and dropped packets will severely impact your online gaming experience. Reliability and consistency is also important This is where Starlink in its current form struggles slightly.
At the present time there are some gaps in Starlink satellite coverage. It is not uncommon to experience drops of up to a few seconds at a time and sometimes a little bit longer. For most web browsing activities this is not that much of an issue. For real-time online gameplay these momentary drops are much more problematic.
Starlink warned about these dropouts in their public beta offering. Now that Starlink is past its beta stage, we would like to see a more stable service. Starlink has repeatedly stated that as more satellites get deployed these drops will become less frequent and eventually go away completely.
If you do any game streaming to services such as Twitch or YouTube, the drops will certainly be an issue.
Starlink internet service is a great option for people who do not have access to cable or fiber based internet in 2022. Gaming is entirely possible and performance is generally acceptable for most people. The occasional drops are surely frustrating and cause for concern.
If you are currently using a service such as HughesNet or Viasat you will defiantly want to consider switching to Starlink if it is available in your location. Starlink is much faster and offers a much lower ping than its competitors. Starlink will also enable you to play online multiplayer games which is not possible with the other services.
If you currently have DSL you may want to consider Starlink. Download and upload speeds are much faster than DSL. Ping is generally about the same as with DSL and definitely acceptable for gaming.
If you currently have cable or fiber based internet I would not recommend switching to Starlink at this time. At this time Starlink offers no compelling reason to make the switch. Starlink is generally slower, has higher latency, and is generally less reliable. Starlink is also more expensive at this time. As much as you might like to dump your current ISP now is probably not the time to make the switch.
Remember this is just the beginning for Starlink and their service will likely continue to improve as they launch additional LEO satellites. Starlink may improve its stability and reliability in coming years, but for now it is no match for cable or fiber. If you do want to use Starlink you will likely want to use a VPN. Check out our VPN recommendations for 2022.