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It’s not news that esports is a global phenomenon. With its roots in StarCraft and PC bangs in South Korea and shooters and LAN parties in the United States in the 1990s, competitive gaming now has forecasts of hitting $11 billion or more in 2020 — and the reality may even be higher as more folks stay at home and play games during the coronavirus pandemic.

And that means game companies depend on telecoms such as Singtel to deliver the bandwidth needed to keep the likes of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and PUBG Mobile online and humming under massive player loads. And this could mean making sure cell towers are working in Bangalore or that a fishing trawler didn’t damage any of the undersea fiberoptic lines stretching thousands of miles from California to Singapore.

During the second day of the all-digital GamesBeat Summit 2020, Niko Partners founder and managing partner Lisa Hanson discussed infrastructure, gaming-as-a-service, esports, and more with Singtel vice president of sales Tim Guhl.

Singtel is a massive telecom company in the Asia-Pacific region, with connections and networks in such places as Europe, India, Southeast Asia, and the United States. It also has an immense system of undersea cables to transmit data from the Americas to Asia, a fleet of three ships that maintains those cables, and satellites. These all help get data from one place to another, be it a call home to the parents in Kuala Lumpur or a Fortnite mobile esports event.

“The U.S. has an estimated 276 million mobile devices. Singtel has over 700 million mobile subscribers, making us the largest multinational mobile service provider,” Guhl said in his conversation with Hanson. “Global gaming is growing, and high-quality connectivity to target market is key, specifically in the realm of latency, packet loss, and jitter. We can partner with gaming companies to find faster, more reliable, cost-effective solutions.”

Managing bandwidth

And what are these nearly 1 billion people hungry for (besides games)? Bandwidth. And so are the publishers and studios running these titles. It’s a key component to both esports and games-as-a-service (GaaS).

“It’s a wonderful evolution that’s happening in the gaming industry as a whole,” Guhl said of GaaS. “For the gaming industry, it extends the life of games. Gone are the days 10 to 20 years ago of binging a game and then moving on. Gaming-as-a-service allows the gaming community to push updates, keep it fresh, and gaming-as-a-service really brings the global community together. It allows you to experience cultures and develop relationships in ways you couldn’t do 10-15 years ago. I like what I see in the gaming-as-a-serve industry and predict it to grow and bring people together.”

But bringing all these people together hogs a lot of bandwidth.

“Gaming and online gaming companies are starting to ask for tremendous loads. Ten years ago, 500MBs was fine. Now we’re in the planning stages for 100GB-, 500GB-, 1TB-per-second bandwidth. That’s enough to download the entire Library of Congress in seconds. That really does tell you that what kind of traffic they’re looking to push very quickly, very soon.”

And those demands could be growing larger as folks continue to shelter-in-place during the pandemic. “We’ve managed the storm pretty well,” Guhl said of COVID-19.

Managing global games

Singtel works with Western companies, and Guhl said these are the keys that those looking to do business in Asia-Pacific should heed:

  • A growing focus on mobile, which is a big opportunity and has reach in Asia-Pacific.
  • Meeting the needs of global gaming: High-quality connectivity, specifically when it comes to latency, packet loss, and jitter. Singtel seeks to work with gaming companies to help them find faster, more reliable, cost-effective solutions.
  • Esports: partnering with leagues, like PVP esports. Singtel has invested a great deal into competitive gaming, including sponsoring events and adding to prize pools.

Guhl advises game companies to remember this about Asia-Pacific.

“The most important thing to think about when you’re talking about Asia-Pac region is that it’s still a developing nation as a whole. There’s multiple places still trying to develop their technology footprint. This does open up potential for source of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of new gamers, but when it comes to technology, you get what you pay for in Asia-Pac region,” he said. “Being aware of who they partner with beyond cost will be key to the end-user experience and the overall growth of the region. That’s the most important thing to keep in mind.”

Of course, many companies are ready to go to great lengths to get into this market: Guhl reminds us that Asia-Pacific has more than 1.2 billion people who play games, and this generates $66.2 billion in revenue.

Managing … massive undersea cables?

But the most fascinating part of the discussion might have come to the end — Hanson asked the one question I had on my mind: What’s an undersea cable like?

“Almost exactly what you’d think it to be,” Guhl said, “It’s about 14-to-18 inches in diameter. The ships we own … a fleet of three ships … they have huge spools that look like very large spools of fishing line. They slowly let out the spool, and they drive across the ocean and it falls down to the bottom of ocean.”

As Guhl talked about how Singtel deals with these cables, he became more enthusiastic.

“(We) plan it to make sure they’re safe and in a diverse area without other cables. They’re packed with multiple strands of fiberoptic services,” Guhl said. “One goes from one landing station, say Los Angeles on the West Coast, to another landing station — say Singapore or even Australia. Believe it or not, need multiple lines have problems … (think) of lines on the ocean, there’s a tendency for somebody too drop an anchor on it or tendency or a fishing company using a dragging system to pull up one of those cable systems. The fleet repairs those and keeps them running. Interesting operation when you see it working.”

So even in this era of high technology, where fiberoptics and satellites transmit libraries of information in seconds, we’re still laying down cables similar to how humanity installed the first telegraph lines under the Atlantic Ocean in 1858 — opening the era of global communication.