Imagine feeling the tension in a World Cup stadium as the ball ricochets off a goalie’s fingers, or hearing the deep breath of an Olympic skier about to leap onto the slopes. Stefan Birrer wants to deliver these thrills to everyone.
“If you have the technology that solves the issue of real time, you can experience both those things as they happen,” says Birrer, CEO of PhenixP2P. “Very few companies can make it work at that scale.”
Companies like Akamai Technologies currently dominate this market with huge deployments of servers that allow them to stream major events.
“That’s eventually where we want to be,” says the member of Chicago’s WeWork River North.
But Birrer wants to accomplish all that in a different way. Rather than build banks of servers or invest in expensive hardware, he is developing a global peer-to-peer platform that streams content through shared networks. That way, says Birrer, “everyone in the network is part of the distribution.”
When you have multiple viewers, it inevitably causes problems like diminished video quality and lag time. Birrer says that testing to make sure that the quality is the same that you’d expect from the big-name players requires a “continuous effort.”
“There were a number of times the results weren’t good enough,” Birrer says. “Most of my experiments didn’t perform close enough to what I expected them to do, and it’s draining.”
The process reminds him of when he researched peer-to-peer technology at Northwestern University. He spent countless nights mapping out algorithms with no guarantee that any of his experiments would yield results. When he wasn’t successful, he’d come back the next day to grind it out again.
“If you get something done by the time you want it to get done, there’s value there,” Birrer says. “But if you don’t get it done after that time you set out to get it done, you may not get the value you want. I learned to prioritize what would get me the most value and not compromise my deadlines. Sometimes that meant scheduling time to hang out with my friends and then going back to the lab at 3 in the morning.”
After countless test runs, Birrer is preparing to launch his platform’s beta phase. He’s spoken about it at conferences and put together a short list of clients he wants to help him test his technology.
Instead of a wide release, PhenixP2P is opting for a small-scale soft launch focusing on clients in Germany, Canada, and Israel.
“We want to build our core technology out by onboarding the right customers at the right time,” Birrer says. “It’s an opportunity tradeoff, and we’re being realistic about it.”
Birrer is upbeat about how far his company has come.
“Initially, we didn’t have peer-to-peer capabilities built in,” he says. “Now we’ve turned it into a platform where you can come to us, and we can provide capabilities to stream to tens of thousands of people. The goal is millions.”
Photographs by PhenixP2P