Pentanet was founded just four years ago, yet is moving quickly to become one of the most advanced fixed wireless networks in the world. We discuss why Perth is a great city to perfect the technology, why Cornish sees the city as the ideal place for an esports hub for Australia, and where he seems the long term potential of cloud-centric experiences heading.
It doesn’t take long to get the idea that Cornish is quietly building a local network with very big global thinking about the opportunity in the decades to come.
Update: We’ve added the full transcript from this really great chat below.
Byteside #67 – Pentanet founder Stephen Cornish interview transcript
Seamus Byrne: You are a very Perth kind of a company at the same time. A good first thing I wanted to ask was, what is it about Perth and ISPs? Because iiNet emerged from there and took over the country for a while, and then was it TPG? Was that the gaping hole in the industry, then you were like, “Well, if there’s no real iiNet that’s the home here…”
Stephen Cornish: Yes, no one’s really on that mantle anymore. No, you’re right, and there’s been Westnet, iiNet, MCom. All these quite large telecommunications companies do tend to spawn from Perth and WA. I think what it is, WA is a very parochial market. WA likes to buy from WA brands, and we’d like to have local service and that sort of thing, because comparatively, we are quite far from the rest of the country. All these companies have followed a similar mandate, which was Fortress WA. If you can really own the WA market, it gives you a really good foundation to potentially go national from there.
Seamus: Yes, that makes sense. That was like 2017. Isn’t that long ago? Obviously, there’s a pandemic in the thick of all of that as well. It does seem like you’ve made some really interesting and clever moves that has really given you a pretty prominent profile in a very short period of time, at least within gaming circles, for sure.
Stephen: Yes, it’s good to hear that and good to get that feedback because it’s certainly what we try to target to do, but really, I started the network, I started Pentanet. It really was just for my own need initially. This was 2016, 2017. I was living in a house that didn’t actually have NBN yet or anything, and I had very bad ADSL. I was working from another house where I was– I went through a period where I was playing League of Legends a lot. Not that I was any good, I’m still just stuck in bronze at this point, as most good players are, right?
Seamus: Yes, of course.
Stephen: Look, I was living in this new house, and all I could get was ADSL. I would always be checking Whirlpool and that and monitoring when NBN was coming around and learning about the different technologies. Everyone was on the edge of their seat trying to hear what sort of technology they were getting to their house at that point. There was nothing really near to me that was around the corner with a different kind of connection from ADSL, and so I started looking into fixed wireless.
There were a few smaller fixed wireless players at the time, but no one was really doing anything major, major. Like trying to bring the technology to a mass-market or anything. It was a really good time. Fixed wireless and wireless technology was just getting to a really interesting point. Everything was shifting to AC technology. The kind of bandwidth that fixed wireless was capable of doing was actually more than what NBN, especially fibre to the node, was even going to be capable of doing.
I started to look into it, and the prohibitor for fixed wireless is that it is expensive. It’s expensive for the end-user because you’ve got to have a dish and everything installed on the roof of your house. What I ended up doing was, just to solve my own problem, I found a tower that was near my house that had fibre optics to it and just made my own little private network because I went and bought a lease on the tower.
I remember meeting with the tower company, they were randomly here in Perth one time, and I met with them at a hotel lobby and explained I wanted to get on. They listened to me. They were like, “Okay.” I ended up putting some equipment on the tower, and basically ran my own little network back to the data centre and connected the house to it.
Seamus: Haven’t we all looked up at that– Well, I’m sure. I know nerds have certainly. You look at some tower and you think, “What would it take to just set myself up?” I love that you’re like, “Well, I’m actually going to do it.”
Stephen: Yes. I had to, right? I had to get out of bronze at this point. Look, the technology worked, and I was like, “Oh, wow, there’s something in this.” It definitely wasn’t economical to run all that just to one house. I’d actually sold a house that I had to fund actually building that tower, so I thought, “I definitely need to make a business out of this.” The nature of the technology is that you have to be within a few kilometres of the tower and you have to have perfect line of sight to the tower.
When I built this tower, I was like, “Now I need to put some extra users on it and try and cover the costs,” et cetera. I was literally out just knocking on doors. I was like a door-to-door salesman but selling internet, which was a completely foreign concept to everyone I spoke to, so I didn’t really get that much traction early on. Over time there was take up. The proof was in the pudding that once people got connected, they were like, “How come more people aren’t connecting to this network?”
It was early days. It was a process of just trying to sell people onto that one tower and then I started to get inquiries as word spread from all over Perth. I very quickly found I had to build more coverage and build more towers, which I was just going out there trying to find new towers to build onto. The hard part was also finding the capital to do this. I’d put all the money in from selling my house into building part of the first three or four towers, and then I had to go and find investors and whatnot into the business, which initially was like all kinds of little start-ups.
You get friends and family coming on board. I set up a structure so they had equity in the business, then moving forward, years later, and several large capital raises. It took about a year of me having meetings every day before we got our first decent size external capital, which allowed me to go and begin building the beginnings of the network that we have today.
Seamus: Was this all pre-2017 before you were officially Pentanet theISP, or is this actually part of that just slow build from that moment?
Stephen: Yes, probably part of that 2017 to 2019 journey. We were creating big waves here in Perth. We did want to change the landscape and the shape of gaming and esports nationally, so I guess that’s when over time people over east, especially through our League of Legends team, started hearing about Pentanet. Even still today, people over east probably don’t realize the extent of what we actually do here in Perth from a telecommunications point of view.
Seamus: Well, look, let’s talk a little bit about the moving to esports. Apart from, clearly, you’re a fan, as you said, was that always a bit of a thing in the back of your mind of like, “Hey, I could run an esports team as well as run an ISP. Why not?”
Stephen: I think the opportunity presented itself maybe a year prior to us doing it as well, but really where we fit– We’re really passionate about the technology and internet. We obviously created this network to make life better for us as gamers, and thus it’s good for everyone. I’m a really big advocate for– From where Perth is actually situated, Singapore is the exact same distance, as far as telecommunications goes, as Sydney. Theoretically, out of Perth, you can actually create an Australasian esports region. It’s been something I’ve been talking about for a few years now. I’m trying to attract and build a network that supports potentially an Australasian region for esports and gaming.
I was looking at it from an infrastructure point of view. Then we were talking to schools and students. We’re trying to shed light on the actual– there is a viable career pathway into esports and gaming, whether it’s streaming or content creating, there’s a bit of a gap. You might have a family that’s sitting on the next Daniel Ricciardo in the backroom of gaming, but the parents are completely unaware. Whereas in your traditional sport, someone shows promise kicking the footy, or playing tennis, the parents will help propagate that and take them to the games and everything that, but there’s a big disconnect with gaming.
We were trying to shed a light on that, and we’d host little community events, just having little gaming activations and that sort of thing. We’re very much in the space because it’s in the overall halo of our business, but then when the opportunity came up again to get one of the OPL licenses, we looked at it, and we thought if we are going to get further into esports, we should go straight to the top end and do it as best as we can, create our own brand in that space.
Seamus: Was that 2019? Was that the first year for Pentanet, because it wasn’t last year, was it? It was 2019.
Stephen: I think it was 2019 when we first had our pro team.
Seamus: You’ve had that particular year, then last year. No, it was this year, wasn’t it? When you had that first– the first half of this year you had massive success and had the team head overseas to midseason invitational. For you as someone who’s a fan, and then you thought, well, we’ll do this team thing and it’s got a few nice little business connections as to why it’s a really great idea to do it, how exciting was that to then have this team that you’ve invested in carry your name onto the world stage?
Stephen: It was extremely exciting. I still remember. There’s several things on my “bucket list”, and one of them I didn’t know existed until I saw it. That was seeing the Pentanet logo in the game when I was playing League of Legends. I think that was probably one of the pinch-me moments. When I could do my Pentanet emote while I was playing my one trick Quinn, I was like, “Okay, yes, I’ve made it.” That was a really good moment for me.
Seamus: That’s awesome. That’s like the equivalent of having a global emote on Twitch or something.
Stephen: Yes. To think, oh, there’s that logo and company, everything that I just created was now in the game that I loved playing.
Seamus: Where did the name come from? Is that a reference to pentakill-type stuff or–?
Stephen: Absolutely. I remember exactly– the name came to me. I woke up at 3.00 AM one night, and I just woke up, and then the name was like, “Oh, Pentanet.” I was like, “Okay, yes. That’s it. That’s what I’ll call it.” Because it was an ode to, obviously, penta, pentakill [killing all five members of the opposition League of Legends team]. Pentanet, it’s a gaming network, but then also penta being five for 5G, because I eventually wanted to move into 5G. That was a play on both of those.
I remember I woke up, the next day came around, and I called one of my friends and said, “Oh, yes, what do you guys think of– I think I’ll call it Pentanet.” He was like, “It doesn’t really stick.” Anyway, we went through with it. That was actually Connor Llewellyn, our CIO. There isn’t a day where it goes by where we don’t say the name.
Seamus: Through that side of the journey, then we’re now heading into this moment where you’ve got yourself involved with the Nvidia GeForce cloud server or the GeForce NOW. I do always get confused.
Stephen: Yes, GeForce NOW.
Seamus: It really does speak to that idea that I guess you have a bit of a firm love for this whole gaming side of what it means to be a network. Again, how did that process come about?
Stephen: I was talking to Nvidia for a long time before that was ever public information. Obviously, cloud gaming is absolutely going to be the future. It sounds still a bit novel and people are still thinking, “Oh, that might not work.” I thought, “We’re putting so much effort into building this telecommunications network that really is next-gen.” The network we’re building in Perth is a gigabit-capable network. If you just look historically, when broadband first started coming about in 4G, it enabled things like YouTube and Netflix.
There’s a lot more content that could come from the internet that people watch on Twitch for that matter. The most difficult part of that process is actually putting the infrastructure in. The telecommunications companies, they’ve got the hardest part. They’ve got to run all that infrastructure that enables that, but it’s actually the content that flows over the network that makes them the money in that sort of thing, if you’re looking at it from a business perspective.
Seamus: I think it’s such a great point, and it was something I wanted to dig into, is that whole idea of how do you add value to the dumb pipe kind of thing?
Stephen: Yes, exactly.
Seamus: Almost the big question in my head probably was why would you even start an ISP given that that is such a notoriously difficult thing to add value to? Obviously, you were solving your own problem. I love this part of it… how do you then develop that business into something that is a lot more than just the pipe?
Stephen: I figured that the future applications, what next-generation networks enable will be cloud computing and cloud gaming. I’m a firm believer that probably within one generation, it’s going to be odd to have the computer anymore, very much like it’s even seeing a CD or a floppy disc these days. It’s this archaic thing that kids wouldn’t even know what one is. They wouldn’t understand why the Recycle Bin on your desktop is this weird-looking disc thing.
I think within that amount of time, a very short space of time, it’d be an archaic concept to actually have the computer next to you and be at the computer or the console. That would be because of cloud gaming getting enabled from these next-gen networks. I think at the moment, people are still very skeptical of the technology. They’re like, “Oh, no.” When we first announced that we’re doing it, it was like, “Oh, why would you bother? It’s not going to work in Australia networks,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Without someone going and trying it and doing it and understanding telecommunications, that we can try and do it the best way possible, Australia would just never get those techs. We just decided to do it because I’m a firm believer that if you’re building a next-gen network, the thing that’s going to run on it the most will be these cloud-based applications. I thought it was really important for us to go and secure an exclusivity over that technology, which ended up being quite disruptive for the telecommunications sector here.
Seamus: What was it that attracted you to that particular solution? I’ve used it myself, obviously. I think I quite love the idea that it connects to your own library of games that you already own. It isn’t trying to necessarily be yet another shop, or any of those kinds of things that might mean, “Okay, what else do I need to do to–?” It’s like, “Oh, I have a Steam library, and I can now access that in just an easier way.” That stuff feels like just a really smart way to approach this kind of thing.
Stephen: I guess Nvidia, they are the world leaders in chip technology and really the horsepower behind what runs these applications. You’ve obviously got the other players in cloud gaming who– Everyone has a bit of a different strategy. Obviously, xCloud is all around creating the library and the cycling library and potentially lower price point, but it’s like a 1080p experience. Where GeForce NOW fits in, it’s the cutting edge, highest horsepower one. You’ve just seen they’ve announced the 3080 service that’ll be coming as well.
Some people are asking, “Well, why didn’t you do the 3080? It’s like, “We need to get the 1080 one working on Australian networks first,” because if you rewind eight months ago, people were saying, “Oh, you’re crazy. It’ll never even work in its current state.” We went and deployed it and proved, “No, no, no, you can stream 1080 cloud gaming, and it works.” Now we’ve just got to constantly improve that. Obviously, down the track, the future could be that we try to bring the 3080 service here in Australia as well. We’ve got to take baby steps because we’re on a very early version of internet here in Australia.
Seamus: I feel like it’s also a good example, isn’t it? How, actually with supply chain constraints right now, that idea that they could be a streaming service that can get you access to the latest graphics card that right now costs you crazy money to try to get your hands on it, if you can even get one at all. It feels like it does point to that idea upgrade cycles of your own hardware, and all those sorts of things start to make much more sense when it’s just a thing you’re going, “Oh, my service has upgraded because their infrastructure is now running on better and more exciting hardware, but mine doesn’t have to even worry about it.”
Stephen: Yes, exactly. It could be the push of a button like, “Okay, you want to 3080, select this option here.” When you log in, the 3080 will spin up and play for you. Really, the industry does have to shift here because there are chip shortages. By nature, GPUs and processors, they are– Semiconductors are difficult to manufacture. They always try to make the best ones and it doesn’t always work out. You get all these different chips that flow out from that.
Really, the future has to be that all of these cards and all of this resource, it has to live in the cloud, and it has to be shared amongst everyone. It’s quite wasteful really. Say if you go and buy a graphics card, and you put it in your gaming PC, 90% of the time you’re not using it. That is a very large waste of resource. If you’re able to put that resource and share it, give access to that to everyone and make it easy and affordable for them to do so, that has to become the way that it happens moving forward. Similar to how we saw Netflix and what that did to Video Ezys and Blockbusters.
Seamus: I’m thinking there’s almost always that curve as well, where let’s say I bought a new card last year and I’m like, if I could even afford to buy the latest and greatest, about a year later, you’re no longer on the latest and greatest, and then you spend a few years feeling slightly disappointed at the fact that you’re no longer on the coolest hardware.
Stephen: Even though you can probably still run really good settings, it’s in the back of your mind that you don’t have that latest card.
Seamus: This kind of a thing means, “Well, okay, just hit that upgrade button and there you are.”
Stephen: If you want to really simplify it, fast forward in the future, imagine what the future looks like in 200 years. You’ve seen it in sci-fi and everything. Literally, everyone would just have some tablet or screen, and they would just log into everything that they need to do remotely. Having a big clunky computer next to you, as much as they’re awesome, I love building them just as much as the next enthusiast with RGB and everything, but it will eventually get replaced. If you look at that vision of the future, everyone just has a tablet or a screen that probably folds out and has a massive amount of processing power because it’s all just done from the cloud.
Seamus: It’s funny. It’s a great point. I was even just thinking a little bit earlier today that– I was thinking of the big question of what’s my favorite piece of technology? I was thinking, “Oh, is it my phone or whatever?” It actually did hit me that actually, it’s the screen. If you take everything else away, it’s the screen that gives us access to things.
The resolution of the screen getting better and better, at a certain point, it doesn’t need to be higher resolution. It’s just a case of, well, once it’s really a good screen, then it’s like, “Is there enough power to drive the screen? Is there a good enough internet connection into that screen?” Then it’s like, “Well, the screen is all that matters in terms of letting me just enjoy amazing stuff.” Whether that’s for work or for play or whatever.
Stephen: Exactly, because all that goes up is the refresh rate, which can only go up so high before it’s– 144 is a pretty good sweet spot. 120, 144. As the resolution just gets higher and higher, all it means is it’s just a bigger screen. I think if you’re just happy playing in front of you on– 27 to 32 inch, I think is a good sweet spot. If you can get higher-resolution, higher refresh rate on that, it’ll go well into the future.
Seamus: I think I parked myself at 1440p. I think once I got that screen, I know I could go and get 4K and all that. This feels good for gaming and not making me go and get a 3080 to keep up.
Stephen: I agree. I think a really good sweet spot for gaming is 1440, 144 Hertz. If we were looking at that from a cloud gaming perspective, that uses more bandwidth than a 1080, 60 frames. Absolutely, we want to evolve and build cloud gaming and be at the forefront of what’s possible that we have to start at the beginning, which is the generation currently accessible to us now, which is that 1080, 60 frames. We’re not going to shy away from building better. If the Australian networks can’t support it, then we’re not going to shy away from building our own telecommunications network that does as well.
We just will always want to strive to build the best solution. That’s what we’re building in Perth with the neXus.
At the start I was explaining how the fixed wireless technology worked, where customers connect to these towers. At the moment, we have probably about 50 of these towers in Perth now, and all the towers have dark fibre at them so we can run 40 gigabit, 100 gigabit per second off these towers if we needed. The technology that we’re actually building into the network now, it’s a Facebook technology called Terragraph and we’re one of the global leaders in the deployment of it.
Basically, we’re in the process now of converting all of our subscribers to this new wireless technology. All of our subscribers start meshing and talking to each other. Rather than a subscriber having to see the tower directly, all they have to do is see another subscriber, and the connection that we can actually overlay with this technology is in the multi-gigabit per second. It’s very low latency, multi-gig per second. Over the coming months, Perth will actually have one of the most advanced telecommunications networks globally with what we’re doing here.
The nature of the network that we build is that it’s built off your subscribers. There would be a case potentially for us in future, say everyone wanted cloud gaming and they wanted to access these higher refresh rates and higher resolution services, we could certainly look to bring them here and it might come to pass that we actually work with those users to build this new network technology onto it, which is basically a replacement for fibre optics. It’s all in the spirit of actually enabling this technology for everyone.
Seamus: That’s great. Something that I remember when all of the first discussions were going on around how 5G would work, there was so much attached to that with the idea that it isn’t just faster internet, that it is about mesh technologies and all these kinds of genuinely next generation kinds of ideas. As it first rolled out as a mobile network concept it is falling back into that easy, old idea of just, “Here’s how fast it is.” It sounds like you’re really trying to push for, “Here’s what the future of networks is meant to be.”
Stephen: Yes, absolutely. I think the main differentiator between what we would classify as our 5G to main 5G is that– I’ll say this here, the exciting part about 5G, the thing that can transfer a lot of traffic, a lot of data with low latency is millimeter wave, but millimeter wave does not go through trees or buildings or anything. It has to be bounced around. If you’re this tier-one carrier that has to– you need someone to walk into the store and buy the box and go take it to their living room and plug it in. It has to be that simple and easy to get the mass market, but that technology that’s within that box, it won’t be able to utilize millimeter-wave because it’s in your living room.
Although it might say 5G on the screen or on the sticker, it’s still utilizing the sort of spectrum and the waves that 4G would be using today, which isn’t as capable of as much traffic as millimeter-wave. The nature of our network is that you have the external receiver on your roof so you are able to connect into this millimeter-wave mesh. Then we bring that traffic into the home via ethernet. We’re tapping into this network that’s above the roof level and bringing that into the home rather than just trying to go directly from a tower into the home.
With that, it’s a much harder engineering challenge for us. It’s not as easy as just walking into a store and buying it and taking it home. Everyone has to get designed and installed into the network. The network that we build off the back of that is just so much more advanced and a better experience for our users.
Seamus: Do you feel like partly because you decided to try to just get Perth right, because definitely one of the first questions in my head was, why only Perth so far? It sounds like it’s that idea of you’re not just reselling NBN, you’re building your own network. Is that also then partly what gives you more confidence in some of these ideas to really test them and push them because you’re trying to get one city right, not just sell as much as you can?
Stephen: Yes, definitely. At the heart of everything we do and the forefront, is the technology and experience. For sure, I could go and create a much bigger business just trying to deploy this thing nationally, but I might be sacrificing getting it perfect because it will be a much wider spread mission to go and deploy that. It’s just by nature that our network is in Perth, we’ve got so much capacity here in Perth and the design that we’ve built on our network here in Perth was to power Terragraph. Certainly, the next step for us is to perfect that network here, which we call the Pentanet neXus.
The IP and the knowledge that we’ll have from building it here for the first time locally here in Perth, we will have the ability to go and replicate that nationally. Where we sit at the point in the business now is, we’re still in the process of educating our user base and educating the market around neXus and the technology much like we had to do three years ago around fixed wireless in general. Once we get a good take-up and can demonstrate the technology and people in other states can see what we’ve built, then the case might be there to say, “Okay, should we go and build it nationally now?”
Really, what we need to build neXus, we need people putting their hands up and saying, “Yes, I want to be one of the first adopters of it.” For us to go and run a campaign like that nationally before we’ve even really demonstrated the power of it, it could spread us a bit too thin. We’d rather just really focus on getting it perfect here. When it comes time to go national, I don’t have to go and put a billboard up next to another provider, and try and educate everyone around my brand because people already are aware what our brand does and they’re excited to pre-adopt the technology before we get there.
Seamus: It seems like that there’s probably plenty of lessons, fixes and things that you go through. If you then get to that point where you feel like you’ve found the sweet spot for how to run this kind of a network, it’s then a lot easier to go and start it from scratch somewhere else rather than fix it in the other place along the way just you’re fixing–
Stephen: Yes, exactly. We are very advanced with Terragraph compared to other people globally using it. The way that we use it here is still very much like– it’s almost like a beta in itself because no one’s really deployed Terragraph technology at the scale that we’re looking at doing and at the speed and pace that we’re looking to do it in. To do that stuff, there are a lot of these little engineering and networking hurdles that we had to figure out.
We’re quite advanced where we sit today and we’re in the process of now deploying them out at scale, these little distribution points that form the mesh. Certainly, off the back of doing that and perfecting it here in Perth, it will put us in a very good position, what we do. As well from a business perspective, in order to grow this, because we’re doing this all at our cost here in Perth. We’re not charging customers to convert them.
It’s an expensive exercise, but with new technology, sometimes that’s what you have to do because you’ve got to remove all the barriers for someone to want to adopt it, to then prove it up. We’d probably need to build that up as a business here to actually have the cash flows and whatnot to replicate that model nationally.
Seamus: For someone who’s never used that kind of tech, are there any surprises in terms of positives or anything around having this kind of an internet connection versus other just NBN or other kinds of connections in your house?
Stephen: Yes, it’s very positive to have. I’ve got a connection here. It’s just really fast. It’s really fast internet and it’s low latency. I wouldn’t be able to live without it now. I suppose the benefit to being on our network, normally, people connect to the internet via the NBN and that’s fine. Say if you’re a retailer reselling the NBN network, majority of that margin does go to the NBN. That’s fair enough, but where the problem lies is that NBN network was really, really expensive to deploy and maybe wasn’t done as well as it could have been, I suppose, but I take my hat off to it.
It was a big task deploying this big network, but they have these big, big costs that they need to go and get back, which does come from a much higher wholesale cost. They try to recuperate the cost that was to build the network. I have to position Pentanet to be a company that can compete against the likes of NBN once NBN go and deploy fibre everywhere. Our neXus will be capable of Gigabit and NBN fibre will be capable of Gigabit, but if I’m selling internet via my own infrastructure because we’ve done that economically, we can retain all of that margin, which then we can put back into building the network to be better. Promoting esports, gaming and deploying more cloud gaming and having tech support.
The way that we look at tech support is we look at it like customer success. Ideally, every single person joining our network should have someone rock out there the next day and check that the printer’s connected and everything like that. Really bring back a service almost like an internet concierge to the industry. At the moment, you can’t do that with the margins you make from reselling, say, NBN. We’re pretty excited about what we’ll be able to do in the future and what your relationship looks like with your internet provider in the next few years, and what we’ll be able to look like in that story.
Seamus: Stepping back to the esports stuff, what is your perspective because I’m sure plenty of people know, you jump on a server, and for Aussies, if there’s no actual official Australian server, then we’re usually trying to jump onto an Asian server or certainly from over here on the East Coast, some server hopefully in the West Coast of America. From your sense, when you’re talking about those kinds of regional links, is there Perth connection out to Singapore, do you know if that is actually providing a better style of connection out to, I guess, the Asia region markets that a lot of gamers are trying to actually compete against to get a bit of that extra competition under their belt?
Stephen: Definitely, it’s better. With the internet and latency, it’s just distance. It’s how long that light or that traffic takes to travel there and back home. It’s RTT, return trip time. If you’re playing within Asian servers out of Perth, the latency that we see is almost very similar to what we’re used to playing out of the Eastern states anyway. There’s definitely an advantage there and I’m still a firm believer, and probably there’s more discussion to be had around what we do with esports, but what I’d really like to build is an esports region that is based out of Perth, so that those players can actually train and play against the Asian servers.
What you actually find with esports, and I’ll take League of Legends as the example, the pro players that are in the circuit, the difficulty curve that they play on is so much higher than just the next rank down, that these players just find that they can only really train against each other because like all things in life, you really only get better at something when you’re learning and playing from someone better than you. There is this ceiling to how good you can get just playing against the Oceanic pro-player base, and they do these things called scrims where during the week, they train against the current and existing teams.
From out of Perth, certainly what we want to try to do, our team could theoretically train the same against the Asian servers and with the Asian pro players. That would really introduce new styles of gameplay and like what I mentioned before, you get better by playing better people. In the offseason, most of these players will go and play in the Korean servers to try and get themselves better and to learn the current meta, or what everyone’s doing with the latest patches and whatnot. That’s something that we can actually access from here in Perth.
Seamus: I was going to say, do you feel like that was part of the success for the Pentanet team through this 2021 year, because obviously apart from just a bit of an upset in the final of the second phase, you were very close to having that seat in both halves of the year.
Stephen: Well, I don’t think the potential and power of what I’m talking about with Perth being a hub of an Australasian region, we haven’t really tapped into that yet, because our players, they weren’t in Perth last split. They were still training nationally against the other national teams. This is something that I envisage for the future.
Seamus: In fact, the competition itself was happening over in the eastern states.
Stephen: Look, OPL left, and everyone was like– it was all in disarray, teams got put together and everything had been ripped out. Everyone was trying to save on cost and that sort of thing. These things like game houses and that, they all dissipated and especially with COVID, there’s no studio. It all ended up getting played online anyway. In the last splits, all of our players were just playing from home. I think they would have had a lot of good experience from going and playing at MSI. They’d get some exposure to play against the other teams.
I just think it was unfortunate getting to the finals, they just choked a little bit, especially to go 3-0. It’s a lot of pressure if you come back, and you’re meant to be this number one thing, and then sometimes the pressure does just amount to the guys.
Seamus: Look, I guess one final thought ahead then, what do you envisage Pentanet is in a few years’ time? Will you win Worlds before you’re rolling out Pentanet in other cities, one or the other?
Stephen: Well, we might win some sort of Worlds and it might not only be League of Legends. We never shy away from a challenge and we certainly want to get more exposure and more involved in esports. We want to get more involved in content creation, streaming, everything that happens digitally to do with the internet, we want to be at the forefront of. We feel that we own our place there because we are the creators of the internet, and we look forward to creating what this future network looks like, which hopefully in the time you’re speaking of, everyone in Australia will be able to access and enjoy.
I think where we sit in the future is a network that we push the boundaries about how telecommunications works, we extract the most amount of speed and lowest latency that we can. Our network is internationally connecting to all these gaming servers. We’ll have other software. Like you see in cloud.gg, it’s how you interact with your cloud gaming. Eventually, cloud.gg will also start to show you social metrics, and it’ll show you what games you’re playing, what games your friends are playing. I want to build this social platform for Cloud gaming, similar to how steam would show you what your friends and that are doing.
Seamus: I get the feeling when I say you’ve got cloud.gg as the hub for the NVIDIA NOW service. I’m like, that seems like it could one day be for anyone anywhere. It doesn’t have to be–
Stephen: I’m glad you picked up on that. It’s really interesting. I have goals, often, there’s obviously a lot of stakeholders with Pentanet. I don’t think there’s a true appreciation of us actually owning and building something in that domain. Cloud.gg, that’s the domain for cloud gaming globally. The application that we can end up building on that platform, I think, will certainly extend beyond anything that we’re doing here in Australia, but Australia is our home and we’ve got to build it first in here and invest for everyone here.
Seamus: I get the feeling the way you talk about it that you have that like nice, quiet calm, but grand optimism of what the potential could be without necessarily trying to over-egg it upfront, just slowly and surely keep delivering on it.
Stephen: Exactly, exactly. I can talk to things but eventually, it gets to a point where the best way to do it is just to deliver and show people what we can do. Absolutely. The vision that I have for Pentanet, it’s beyond anything that exists today but what I would want to build, it does require me to have a telecommunications network. I have to build one of those and if I’m going to build one, I have to build the best telecommunications network and then also relies on owning all of the gaming infrastructure, the gaming servers, the cloud gaming service, all of these industries that don’t even exist yet.
That’s another pillar of the business, again, very difficult, but we’re doing it, because it’s actually how we’re going to integrate all of these different pillars into cloud.gg which is the future of what we’re building. People probably wouldn’t have any realization yet around what we plan to eventually build, combining all those elements together. Again, what does your interaction with your internet service provider look like in the future? What else do you do with them other than just pay for your internet?
Seamus: It seems like a very good new example of the old think global act local adage that if you’re going to build infrastructure, you need to do it that way.
Stephen: Certainly. For us, local is very local here in Perth. It’s a good place to start.
Seamus: Awesome. Stephen, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Stephen: Thanks, Seamus. It’s been great chatting.
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Seamus runs Byteside. You may also have spotted his words at the Australian Financial Review, the ABC, Junkee, Gamespot, The Esports Observer, CNET, Gizmodo and a few other spots over the years. He's very happy that he gets to nerd out for a living.