Starlink To Support Competitive Gaming With Low Latency Soon Outlines Musk

Ramish Zafar
A render of satellites connected through lasers.

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Space Exploration Technologies Corp.'s (SpaceX) chief executive officer and chief engineer, Mr. Elon Musk, has shared more details about his company's Starlink satellite-based internet constellation. According to him, Starlink is aiming to improve the internet service when compared land and undersea fiber optic cables by equipping the satellites with laser-based interconnectivity, and if the upgrades take place as planned, then the service will provide better performance over the fables.

Starlink Latency Should Drop Below 20 milliseconds Over The Next Few Months Outlines Musk As Upgrades Are Underway

His comments, made on the social media platform Twitter, came in response after a Starlink user in Illinois shared his internet speed test results. These results showed a download speed of 260 Mbps, an upload speed of 14.5 Mbps and a latency of 58 milliseconds.

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In response to the speed test, Musk outlined that Starlink engineers and SpaceX's production and launch teams have accomplished outstanding performance levels to deliver these results and that soon the latency for the internet service will drop below 20 milliseconds. Through this, the service's users will achieve frame rates similar to those enjoyed by competitive gamers.

The executive's remarks came as follows:

Glad it’s working! The sheer amount of work done by SpaceX engineering, production & launch teams is amazing.

Ping should improve dramatically in coming months. We’re aiming for <20ms. Basically, you should be able to play competitive FPS games through Starlink.

In response to a question asking what changes would enable the new latency, Musk explained that software optimizations and ground stations would improve service quality. In networking, latency refers to the time it takes for a packet of information to travel from the end-user to internet backend servers and back to the user. Lower latencies are preferred for intensive use cases such as competitive gaming and video conferencing applications.

SpaceX's Starlink Earth Station in Merrillan, Wisconsin. The company filed for the station's license in September 2019 and the FCC granted its approval in April 2020. Image: darkpenguin22/Reddit

According to him, an increase in the number of ground stations and software improvements that will improve packet routing will be the main causes for the latency increase. Starlink's current network model consists of three points: the end-user connected through their dish terminal, the satellites operating in low-Earth orbit, and the ground stations scattered across the U.S. and other regions. The user sends data to the satellites, which relay it to the stations to connect with back-end internet servers. The stations then transfer the data back to the satellites, which then communicate with the user terminal.

SpaceX plans to upgrade this model partially in the long-term, its filings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have revealed. The upgrade will be made through second-generation Starlink satellites capable of connecting through onboard lasers.

Musk shared details for this upgrade as well, which should not affect the entire system. When asked about whether the laser links will also help with latency and speeds, he replied that they could cut down latency by 50% due to the speed of light in vacuum and shorter travel times compared to fiber optic cables.

He also outlined that the satellite laser technology will be similar to the one used by Earth-based cables and modified for use in vacuum. If Starlink can successfully modify the lasers for vacuum use, then the service offered by the satellites will be better than that offered by ground fiber optic cables, according to the executive.

SpaceX already operates some laser satellites, such as those catering to polar orbits but its plans for the second-generation spacecraft are unknown when it comes to launch timing. Satellite laser connectivity, also dubbed as optical inter-satellite links (OISL), is also being tested by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) who launched its Mandrake 2 spacecraft dubbed Able and Baker under the Blackjack program through SpaceX's recent Transporter rideshare satellite mission.

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