Level 3 Communications is one of those companies in the background,
making things work. You usually dont hear much about companies like
these, aside from cryptic advertisements on TV and in magazines touting
things like "reliability", "performance", "making the world work", and
other such keyphrases. When we got word that Level 3 would provide
infrastructure support for Microsofts Xbox LIVE network, we were
interested. Certainly, we have a vested interest in the quality of those
connections. However, when Level 3 first sent us news of their deal with
Microsoft, they had just received a much-needed cash infusion from
notable businessman Warren Buffet and were looking to resurrect a stock
symbol hanging onto market listing by a thread. In spite of stellar
performance during the tech boom, Level 3 had been battered by the
bursting of the proverbial bubble and was looking to reinvigorate
Almost a year after the Microsoft deal was announced, and after some
eight months of Xbox LIVE in action, with over 500 thousand XBL gamers
worldwide, Level 3 has maintained a steady growth and stabilized itself
considerably. Of course to focus on their Xbox action is to forget that
since 1998 Level 3 has provided the fiber-optic network for Sony Online
Entertainment and their little online gaming venture, Everquest. At this
point in time, Level 3 has been gobbling up their competitors and
announcing new contracts to provide gaming services to the companies
that provide the games to us. If all is well at Level 3, then we gamers
will hardly know theyre behind the scenes.
But we really dont care about the financial outlook of a company
were not investors, and were not board members. We hate press
conferences that make us feel like were in Economics class. We love
games, so we consulted Level 3s "game guy", Bill Wohnoutka, Director of
Commercial Development, and the man responsible for Level 3s online
gaming and online content, to get the full story about exactly what
Level 3 does for us.
GamesFirst!: Do all online gamers utilize Level 3 lines, or just
gamers in specific regions?
Bill Wohnoutka: We have a nationwide footprint almost 100%
coverage on the modem side. Our network backbone extends to 17 markets
in Europe and 56 markets in the US. Its fairly safe to assume that 1/3
of the time any typical dial-up customer is using our backbone. Were
not the sole provider of services to companies like Sony Online, but we
are definitely primary providers.
GF!: You mentioned dial-up
BW: Specifically, we have a platform that services dial-up
modems, as well as DSL providers and almost all cable modem providers.
Our services range from providing dark fiber (the actual lines weve put
in the ground), to providing Layer Three support that actually affects
the user experience. Weve removed the old hardware from the core of our
network and streamlined it so that we have better control over our
traffic flow and we can prioritize traffic across our backbone routers.
GF!: So you dont sell products to gamers; rather, you sell
products to companies that then turn around and offer various gaming
experiences directly to gamers, right?
BW: Level 3s position in this market is to be a wholesale
provider of network access to online game companies, as well as a
wholesale provider to the ISPs that are providing access to these games
The services we provide are often sold to customers through companies
like Microsoft and Sony. Weve been supporting the Everquest servers
since its launch. We are a key piece of the infrastructure that connects
those users to their games. With Sony Online weve built the fiber-optic
GF!: What are Level 3s plans to enhance their game-related
services in the future?
BW: We can allow our customers to prioritize gaming traffic, for
example, to better serve gamers. Were going to see our customers really
benefit from this application over the next 12 months. Weve learned a
lot from working with gaming traffic, which is very different from other
types of traffic. We are actively seeking out technologies that will
enable and enhance broadband gameplay, from the Internet user side as
well as the game server side.
GF!: What kind of support do you provide for Sonys PS2 online
BW: We have not announced anything publicly, and I cant say much
more about it
But they publish many of their own games, and handle the
online capacities of these games. They control the traffic of games like
SOCOMM, but I cant speak on their behalf.