Reliance changed the rules of the game by launching Jio; forcing the other telecom operators to either play by those rules or lose customers. But, this 13-month old startup from Bengaluru wants to change the way the entire game is played with WiFi Dabba.
“Data cost in India is very high at present. We believe that even after the launch of Jio there is a lot of room for price wars to happen and we are certain that we can drop the prices even further,” says Wifi Dabba, cofounder, Shubhendu Sharma.
The Y Combinator- backed startup is already selling data at a significantly low price. Check out their data packages: 100 MB for Rs 2; 500 MB for Rs 10; and 1 GB for Rs 20 – with a uniform validity of 24 hours. Comparatively, Jio provides 150 MB at Rs 19 to its pre-paid customers and 1.05 GB at Rs 52.
This data is available in the form of pre-paid tokens sold by small shops like tea stalls and local bakeries in Bengaluru. “We do not ask our users to download any app. They just need to punch in their mobile numbers, fill in the OTP for verification, punch in the key and connect to the internet,” explains Sharma. For anyone who has accessed Wifi in a hotel, the process is very similar, where you connect to the Wifi Dabba network and a browser page opens for you to key in the details.
Wifi Dabba is a licensed ISP and it provides this data through small routers powered by fiber optics installed in these shops.
Cheap data, Fast data
The aim is to provide “super cheap” data at “super fast” speed to even those who have only Rs 2 to spare. The company does, however, provide the users with the option of choosing their own data limit and validity and pay for it online on their website.
All these plans are available in a pre-paid format because “90% of data connections in India are pre-paid. Not many people want to spend Rs 300 up front and this way, users can buy data when they need,” explains Sharma.
The promise of fast data is kept by using fiber optics to provide bandwidth instead of depending on airwaves. Fiber optics provides for a more reliable connection as compared to cellular towers, the speed of which degrades depending on the distance. “We provide a speed of 50 Mbps in a radius of 100-200 metres,” says Sharma.
The company has already installed 350 routers or dabbas (as they like to call it) across the city of Bengaluru and Sharma claims the startup has over 1800 connection requests in-waiting.
“While the cost of maintaining fibre is high and it also requires local modifications; the quality of service and reliability provided by a cable is any day better than airwaves,” adds Sharma.
The startup partners with local cable operators who do the physical work of laying down the cables. Sharma claims it takes the company 6-7 days to create a new connection. The startup is working towards getting this period down to 3-4 days.
This, though, is only the beginning. The company has a detailed plan of getting into a price war with the big telcos and have fired the first salvo.
The aim is to be the preferred choice for internet data and the founders are not mincing their words.
‘We’re a new kind of network. The high-speed kind of network. We are going to provide insanely cheap wifi across Bangalore city. The government’s not going to do it, the big companies should not be allowed to do it. It’s up to you and we to just do it,’ reads a statement on the website.
Bangalore, Sharma informs, is only the start. The plan is to criss-cross the entire nation with its high grade fiber optics to ensure that the user gets reliable data connection.
The modus operandi
Doling out high speed data in pre-paid tokens Wifi Dabba has a diverse user profile. Sharma informs the startup currently enjoys the patronage of three main user groups – lower income peoples like masons, barbers and others who have already purchased their first Android systems, but can only spend a fraction of their daily wages on accessing data; school-going students who come to these wifi-enabled shops to download content; and local shopkeepers who are in the vicinity and require data.
“Instead of installing big towers like big telecom companies do, we are going to put lakhs of these small wifi dabbas across the city to develop a huge network which would cover the entire city of Bangalore,” says Sharma.
Sharma says these wifi units are quicker and cheaper to build. “We spend Rs 4000 to roll out one dabba and 20 of these dabbas can achieve what one tower of big companies can, at a fraction of the cost,” claims Sharma.
In comparison, it takes telecom companies anywhere between Rs 1-2 crore to set up a cellular tower. Clearly, economies of scale is what the startup is counting on to provide such competitive pricing.
The war of future
“Everyone is moving to data. What Jio did to the country was to get everyone hooked onto data. Now, while data consumption is going north; voice consumption is travelling south. Even Airtel and Vodafone are tweaking their services to provide more data. In the coming years, even voice services are going to be used over data on platforms like WhatsApp,” says Sharma.
The founders plan to have lakhs of these routers in place in the next 3-4 years and be the preferred choice for data consumption. The company is currently seed funded by Y Combinator and a few other investors.
“The idea is to build this homegrown hardware and at the same time, tailor it for future tech use where IoT services providers can make use of our network. This would be another revenue stream for us,” adds Sharma.