With a slew of initiatives in the pipeline, Indian WiFi service provider Ozone Networks is determined to make Internet services ubiquitous and accessible for ordinary people.
“We are going to deploy WiFi all over the country, like PCOs [public call offices],” says Sanjeev Bobby Sarin, Ozone’s founder and CEO, during a conversation with Light Reading. “We are targeting 700-900 million people who cannot afford broadband on their own. They are going to connect to our Internet [WiFi hotspots] because they cannot connect at home.”
Ozone has already deployed 6,500 access points, 1,500 of which are public hotspots in 26 different cities, but it aims to reach 1 million hotspots by 2020.
Some 1,000 of the hotspots it already operates form part of a major small cells agreement with Sweden’s Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) that will see a total of 30,000 hotspots deployed across India. “It is a very good arrangement for us because collaborating with them [Ericsson] helps us to get big deals, especially in the government sector,” says Sarin.
It is not stopping at network rollout, either. Ozone wants to provide content so that customers are persuaded to log in to the network again and again. Key to making this happen is the company’s collaboration with Speed Fetch, a micro-caching solution which seeks to provide speedy access to content.
The company already has this service up and running at a few locations. It has also signed content agreements with Pictureworks and Zenga and is in discussion with another content provider called Hungama.
“If a user wants to download a 2.5-hour movie over the standard broadband, it takes 60-90 minutes, but with Speed Fetch it takes five to seven minutes,” says Sarin. “And the best part is that there is no broadband cost. So there is no bill shock. The users would need to connect to WiFi, though. This is going be a revolution,” says Sarin.
Speed Fetch content is available in three categories, according to Sarin: free, paid and subscription.
Ozone also recently launched an Android app called Ozone Connect, which allows it to record user data. This could be critical for the company, which plans to use analytics for location-based advertising. Ozone claims that footfall across all of its locations amounts to between 42 million and 45 million each month.
Offload in the offing
Nevertheless, Ozone believes its biggest revenue generator will be WiFi-offload agreements with mobile operators, even though it has yet to sign any deals. “WiFi offload is the only way the economics of WiFi can work,” insists Sarin. “Nearly 70% of our revenues will come from WiFi offload.”
Sarin is optimistic about this opportunity because growing data consumption is already forcing India’s service providers to think about shifting traffic off congested 3G and 4G networks. India’s spectrum shortage is also putting pressure on the country’s operators.
Although a few service providers — including Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) and Vodafone India — are setting up their own WiFi networks, Sarin reckons operators will eventually see the advantages of using Ozone for WiFi offload. (See Tata Teleservices on Hunt for WiFi Partners and RJio to Drive WiFi Rollout in India.)
Government authorities believe that WiFi will play a critical role in making Internet accessible to the general masses in India. Indian Railways recently announced it would provide free WiFi to its passengers. And the newly elected government in Delhi has promised to provide WiFi coverage in the city within two years.
Government orders for WiFi deployment are likely to become a battleground for operators. Service providers like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Jio and Tata Teleservices Ltd. , besides players like Ozone, will all be vying for a piece of this business.
At the moment, India has only about 30,000 commercial WiFi hotspots. But community-backed hotspots are expected to number more than 2 million by 2018, according to recent research from Maravedis Rethink Analytics, an analyst firm, and iPass Inc. (Nasdaq: IPAS), a WiFi connectivity company.
While Ozone has yet to make any profit, it is optimistic about doing so next year. “We are still in the investment mode because we are rolling out more hotspots,” says Sarin. “We have a business plan to start making money by the end of 2016. The more coverage I have the more revenue I will generate.”
According to press reports that appeared late last year, a UK-based company called New Call Telecom has made an investment in Ozone, although the details of it are unknown.