Last week, upstart Singaporean ISP MyRepublic launched an unlimited data, single speed tier plan on Australia's NBN. It has a 'gamer' variant of that plan, too, that it says is actually different — not just branding, not just smoke and mirrors. It's talking about optimised latency for gaming, and optimised routes to popular servers.
We spoke to the man that promises to make it happen in Australia, and he has some choice words about how to fix the NBN, what Telstra and Optus are doing wrong, and how building a network for gamers is easy — if you know what you're doing.
MyRepublic's Gamer NBN plan is simple, as NBN plans go. It's a single speed tier of up to 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload. It's unlimited quota. It'll be available on all NBN connections, when it launches on November 18. And it's really, actually, properly cheap: $59.99 per month. It's even throwing in a discount on the new PS4 Pro to the first 500 people that sign up.
To MyRepublic's CEO Malcolm Rodrigues, building a NBN plan that actually benefits gamers is relatively easy. "We started as a gaming ISP. We had a bunch of guys at our company that told us gamers were completely mismanaged by the incumbent ISPs — if World of Warcraft is down, you call Singtel [Optus], they don't know anything. And they told us that latency is very important.
"So the beginning of our network was designed by people who are gamers. We've done a couple of simple things — on the network side, we've created a separate VLAN that we put the gamers on, they get prioritisation as they come through to the core of the network.
"We do prioritisation across all types of traffic — if you're watching a 4K video your packets get priority over HD, because they're more sensitive. We love gamer packets, because they need to go really quickly but they're not big; they're control packets. They're small so you can prioritise them and send them off without affecting everything else.
"In Singapore, we built routes to all the popular gaming servers. In Singapore, you can see the latency to around 18 different servers, and if it goes over a certain threshold our guys will deal with it and reroute. It's all transparent, so people can actually see it, and gamers can suggest new servers for us. When traffic to a data centre rises, we increase the size of the pipe.
"We also have a gaming hotline — you don't hit a customer service rep that says "World of Warcraft, what's that?", you hit someone that speaks the same language. We also have an association with Razer and Steelseries, too, brands that gamers like. The vast majority of people that use us aren't console users, they're [PC] online gamers."
MyRepublic is trying hard to tell gamers — and the general public — that it's different to the big, incumbent telcos like Optus (whose SingTel owner is a direct competitor to MyRepublic in its home country of Singapore) and Telstra. "It's the same everywhere; it's the easiest thing to do. Why would I invest all this money, I have all this market share — why would I spend hundreds of millions of dollars to re-do everything? People don't know any better. Lack of competition means a lack of innovation.
"If you look at traditional telcos, they treat everyone the same. Certain users, when they use the internet a certain way, you can create a product for them that suits them. When we started five years ago, things like Netflix were new — so we had a product called Pure that [prioritised routes] for video streaming. Now it's mainstream, so we've adapted that into every package.
"One of the discussions that we're going to bring to the forefront is that 99 out of 100 Australians don't know the speed that they're connected to. They know their data cap. People don't know what they get, and they don't know what they get.
"In Singapore, we started with 100Mbps, we saw the number of devices in a home rise from 3 to 12. Then that made 100Mbps obsolete, and now the default is 1Gbps, you can buy 2Gbps. So speed is really important. We're always trying to stay ahead of the curve.
"For low latency, if you prioritise packets properly, you only lose a bit of speed — because you don't need to prioritise all of it, you need low latency for your control packets. But as your overall bundle of traffic and your neighbour's traffic becomes more video oriented, the size of it increases."
MyRepublic's 'gamer' NBN plan does sound tempting at face value. $59.99 a month gets you unlimited quota on that latency-optimised portion of MyRepublic's internal network at speeds up to 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload. Your final speed, though, is dependent on whether you're on a purely fibre technology like fibre to the premises, or a less ideal connection like fibre to the node or hybrid fibre-coaxial.
And MyRepublic's Rodrigues is not the NBN's biggest fan. Not in its current form. He's gone on record before calling fibre to the node "shit" as a technology compared to FTTP, and repeated that to Kotaku.
"The biggest problem with FTTN and HFC is that they're copper based technologies. Fibre is passive — you can have pretty big rain storms and nothing happens. The incident rate on copper versus fibre is 15 to one. Any time there's any external or environmental issues, someone on FTTN will have a degraded service or a loss of service.
"The NBN started here and it was a beautiful thing. Somewhere along the line the [government] lost their way. But we believe it'll come back. NBN isn't just a network, it's about policy: in Singapore the policy changed and it became a happy place. In New Zealand, everyone was selling a 30Mbps service — and we had to go in and tell them to lower the cost of the 100Mbps, because the cost is... it's the same.
"We know all the costs. 30Mbps to 2Gbps, the increment is like 5 per cent. We shared data, we said you need to move to 1Gbps — and it took about a year and a half, and they have a 1Gbps service almost at a mass market price. It's about 30 per cent of our sales. It's the same in Australia: nobody should be using 30Mbps, people should be using 100Mbps. They should be using 1Gbps.
"The incumbents don't want it to change. The NBN doesn't want to make a big deal about it, because they have this mixed technology. They don't want you to be getting 100Mbps on fibre, and your friend is on FTTN and the most he can get is 15Mbps. He pays the same amount of tax, and he lives a neighbourhood away — what's going on? We want to open the kimono.
"I've been approached by a vendor. They will give me a licence, they will build it for me — a NBN 1Gbps network — in Papua New Guinea. So there's a chance that in the year and a half, Papua New Guinea will have a nationwide 1Gbps NBN, and Australia will still be trying to convince people about 30Mbps.
"The time has come how to get there — you need to get the politics out of it, you can't get 1Gbps or 100Mbps everywhere on day one, but you have to plan to get there."