home > interview > Interview: Bill Wohnoutka, Director of Commercial Development for Level 3
GamesFirst! Online since 1995

Interview: Bill Wohnoutka, Director of Commercial Development for Level 3
posted by: Shawn Rider
date posted: 09:10 AM Wed Apr 9th, 2003
last revision: 07:30 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

Level 3 Communications is one of those companies in the background, making things work. You usually don\'t 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 Microsoft\'s 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 itself.

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 they\'re behind the scenes.

But we really don\'t care about the financial outlook of a company ? we\'re not investors, and we\'re not board members. We hate press conferences that make us feel like we\'re in Economics class. We love games, so we consulted Level 3\'s \"game guy\", Bill Wohnoutka, Director of Commercial Development, and the man responsible for Level 3\'s 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. It\'s fairly safe to assume that 1/3 of the time any typical dial-up customer is using our backbone. We\'re 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 we\'ve put in the ground), to providing Layer Three support that actually affects the user experience. We\'ve 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 don\'t 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 3\'s 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. We\'ve 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 we\'ve built the fiber-optic network.

GF!: What are Level 3\'s 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. We\'re going to see our customers really benefit from this application over the next 12 months. We\'ve 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 Sony\'s PS2 online gaming?

BW: We have not announced anything publicly, and I can\'t 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 can\'t speak on their behalf.