When your killstreak is climbing and the team is chanting your name, you start to feel invincible. No enemy can defeat you — but laggy internet can. Even the best gamer relies on a fast, steady internet connection to let them stay competitive.
For many years, that meant satellite internet was terrible for gaming. But the satellites and providers have leveled up quite a bit in recent years.
Let’s take a look at the current best satellite internet for gaming options, how satellite internet compares to alternatives like DSL, and whether satellite internet is ready for mainstream use in casual and competitive gaming.
What Is Satellite Internet?
Most internet services are terrestrial (land-based), including cable and DSL. Even your cell phone’s internet signal travels along a chain of cell towers. Satellite internet service is the sole exception to this rule. Its signals get bounced off an orbiting satellite on their way from your computer to your gaming server and back again.
If you live in a city or suburb, then it’s probably easy to find a broadband internet option. Rural internet, though, is notoriously slow. You may not have a single land-based broadband internet option if you live in the middle of nowhere. That’s where satellite internet comes in, with its unique ability to reach even the most remote gamers.
There are currently only a handful of satellite internet providers with any coverage in the U.S. HughesNet satellite service and Viasat satellite internet are the biggest, but the SpaceX Starlink program is rapidly catching up with its unique low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellite offering.
Why Is Gaming on Satellite Internet So Difficult?
When you’re gaming, you need fast internet speeds and a reliable connection. You may have heard that satellite internet is slower than terrestrial internet. The truth is a bit more complicated than that because internet speed isn’t just a single number. When we talk about internet speed, we’re referring to two things: bandwidth and latency.
Bandwidth is the amount of information you can send across your internet connection at once. Latency is how quickly each bit of information travels between your computer and the server.
Most satellite internet providers enforce soft data caps, which you’ll also need to take into account. A soft cap means you won’t get charged for overuse, but your provider will throttle your bandwidth once you hit your monthly limit. In some cases, your speed may be throttled to as low as 1 Mbps — far below the 25 Mbps broadband internet threshold.
It’s always better to have lower latency, more bandwidth, and no data caps. Your specific needs, though, will depend on what type of gaming you plan to do.
We’re going to need to separate competitive from casual gamers. If you’re a bit of both, then you can focus on your competitive gaming needs. Any setup that works for competitive gaming will work for casual gaming.
Satellite Internet for Competitive Gaming
Serious gamers avoid lag. Those precision mouse movements won’t mean anything if you’re basically watching the game on a delay. Your lightning-fast reflexes and 240 Hz monitor won’t help at all if each command takes an extra half-second to bounce off the nearest satellite.
You need to get your latency below 100 ms to have a chance of climbing up those leaderboards. If you’re a skilled player with a good gaming PC, then you probably want to drop your latency down to 20 to 40 ms. That’s the only way to ensure you can keep upskilling without interference from a laggy connection.
Most competitive games don’t require nearly as much bandwidth. Games like “Fortnite” and “Call of Duty” typically only require 3 to 5 Mbps, and “League of Legends” often uses less than 1 Mbps.
Keep in mind, though, that you’re sharing your bandwidth with others on the network. If you and your roommate are both gaming, then you’ll need to double the bandwidth requirements. Streaming movies on your network could take up between 5 Mbps (HD) and 15 Mbps (4K). Make sure you plan for all that when deciding whether your satellite connection is fast enough for gaming.
Satellite Internet for Casual Gaming
Some games require more strategy than reflexes. In “Civilization 6,” you can build the pyramids a turn ahead of your Egyptian rivals even if your internet connection lags horribly. Even when the cards are flipping more slowly than they should, that perfect Hearthstone deck can still unleash an epic combo against your opponent.
Casual online gamers don’t need much in the way of bandwidth or latency. You can easily get away with less than 1 Mbps for most casual games, and latencies of 500 to 1,000 ms typically won’t stop you from playing.
The exception, of course, is when your game has a very short time limit per turn. Most casual games give you several seconds, but some servers and game modes could be uninviting for higher-latency connections.
Even casual games require a steady internet connection though. You can deal with lag, but an unstable connection could cause you to forfeit the game and potentially impact your rankings. As long as your connection is stable and you have plenty of time per turn, casual games are ideal playgrounds for satellite internet connections.
Single-player games or offline multiplayer games are, of course, great too. You’ll still need enough bandwidth to download updates, but internet latency is not an important factor.
How Do I Make Satellite Internet Better for Gaming?
When you’re gaming on a satellite internet connection, you need to avoid adding any extra lag. You’ll also want to conserve as much bandwidth as possible, especially if your internet service has relatively low bandwidth or you’re nearing your data cap.
You can’t move the satellite closer, but you can take these other steps:
- Switch to a wired internet connection instead of Wi-Fi
- Use a wired mouse and keyboard
- Pause all background downloads, including automatic system updates
- Close all other programs, especially internet browsers and streaming apps
- Restart your router frequently, especially when you notice extra latency
Your goal is to get each click and button push to the satellite as fast as possible. Wired connections speed up the parts of the pipe that you control. Shutting down other programs prevents your kill shot from getting stuck in the upload queue. Restarting your router every once in a while is a good way to prevent general network issues.
Also watch out for data caps, most of which are between 10 and 100 GB. Fortunately, games like “Overwatch” and “Fortnite” typically use around 100 MB per hour of online data, and some games use even less. At those rates, you shouldn’t run over the cap from gaming alone. For HD streaming quality, Netflix uses up to 3 GB per hour, per device. That can easily send you over the limit, leaving you to game at a throttled speed.
You have two basic ways to overcome data caps. Your first option is to pay extra to upgrade your plan. HughesNet offers plans with caps as high as 75 GB, and Viasat’s plans go up to 150 GB.
Your other option is to take advantage of HughesNet’s Bonus Zone, which gives you 50 GB of additional data to use during off-peak hours. Even if you’ve gone over your standard data cap, it will give you full speeds from 2 to 8 a.m. in your local time zone. If you’re a late-night gamer, then the Bonus Zone is a lot cheaper than upgrading to a plan with a higher data cap.
Satellite vs. DSL Internet Gaming: Which Is Better?
In some rural areas, your only internet options are satellite or digital subscriber line (DSL). DSL isn’t typically as fast as cable internet service or fiber-optic internet connections, but it does often offer download speeds well over 100 Mbps. Viasat’s fastest satellite internet plans are 100 Mbps, so DSL has the potential for higher speeds.
But there’s a catch. You don’t always get the DSL speeds you pay for. DSL speeds and connection quality degrade quickly as you get farther away from your provider’s nearest office or access point. If you’re far enough away, then the speeds may be substantially slower than you would get from satellite internet.
DSL’s upload speeds are much slower than its download speeds — often as low as 1.5 to 8 Mbps. That could still be faster than the 3 Mbps upload speed Viasat and HughesNet offer. Starlink’s upload speeds, though, are close to 14 Mbps, besting both DSL and the other satellite providers. Neither DSL nor satellite comes close to the upload speeds of cable and fiber-optic connections like Verizon Fios.
Latency is still a key factor for competitive gamers, and DSL offers a significant advantage there. DSL can have latencies as low as 10 ms, although some providers use a process called interleaving that increases those latencies to 15 to 35 ms. That’s still much less than the 100 ms latency you will often see from satellite providers. Starlink’s low-Earth-orbit satellites, though, can have latencies as low as 20 ms, which is very competitive with DSL.
How Do I Decide If Satellite Internet Is Best for Gaming?
Satellite is a much better internet option for gaming now than it was even a few years ago, but it’s still not right for everyone. Starlink has certainly turned some heads in the gaming community, but it’s just out of beta and still available only in select regions.
Check what providers and plans you have available for alternative options like cable and DSL. If possible, talk with your neighbors to see what speeds they actually get from their plan and whether they suffer from dropped connections or slow down during peak hours.
Once you know your options, think about the type of gaming you want to do. Satellite internet shouldn’t be a problem for casual gamers, but competitive gamers may not be able to handle the high latencies. Dealing with those latencies may be worth it if your other options are too expensive or if the DSL speeds in your area are too slow. You’re a gamer — you know how to make a tactical decision, and you know when it’s time to pull the trigger.
Frequently Asked Questions About Satellite Internet Gaming
Is satellite internet fast enough for online gaming?
Satellite internet can provide speeds as high as 100 Mbps, which is more than enough for any online game. The high latencies of satellite internet, however, could be problematic for some competitive gaming.
Is satellite internet good for gaming and streaming?
Some satellite internet plans have enough bandwidth for both gaming and HD or even 4K streaming. The combination of these activities, however, can quickly take you over your data cap, resulting in a throttled connection that will make either activity difficult.
Can you play Xbox online with satellite internet?
You can play Xbox online with a satellite internet connection, but the high latencies may make it difficult to compete in fast-paced games. Turn-based games and other casual games won’t be a problem.