Why "Internet Management" is to be solved before "Wi-Fi Management" for SMEs?

This article resolves around the wired internet infrastructure in India which is a backbone for all SMEs. 4G is good for individual devices but it can't accommodate a large volume of devices on a single network hence limiting its potential in providing internet availability. Moreover, 4G becomes 0.00003G once you enter a bit inside of any store, mall, or enter basements, lifts, parking lots, store & server rooms.

In India, most SMEs & Retail stores are struggling with unreliable and fluctuating internet across their locations and have to spend heavily on sourcing multiple internet connections (sometimes, expensive lease lines too) to ensure their basic needs are met (CCTV, POS, Local Server etc). This leaves no room for provision of "Free WiFi" at their stores for guests hence heavy reluctance towards creating public wifi networks at their stores.

Solving this problem of "Affordable and Reliable Internet" has been a key element of our Wi-Fi business for last 3 years. When we started offering our "Guest Wi-Fi Hotspot Solutions" to local Restaurants, Bars, Salons in Mumbai back in 2016, we observed that 9 out of 10 outlets had either taken a maximum of 8 Mbps broadband connectivity (of course with data limit of 50 GB to 100 GB per month) or had opted for 512Kbps-2 Mbps lease line which is barely enough for their CCTV and POS systems. 5 out of 10 outlets were still on DSL (deadly slow link) connections with fluctuating download and slow upload speeds. In this situation, convincing owners to pay for a separate internet line or to upgrade their existing connections with higher data packs and speed plans to accommodate public wifi hotspots was quite difficult (no wonder, we still had to ask for another payment for our services of Wi-Fi Management).

With this type of environment, we had two choices - 1. Keep on looking for owners who are ready to pay extra for that hi-speed connection and our services too OR 2. To get our hands dirty with this "Internet" problem first. We had just started and maybe if we solve this problem first, we will have better chances of selling our Hotspot System later to a bigger audience.

We did our best to find the best available internet service providers (ISPs) at each of our clients' locations with hi-speed broadband connectivity (unlimited data, static ip all inclusive) through all available options of ISPs in that particular area and started replacing expensive lease-lines, so-called 8Mbps broadband connectivity with hi-speed plans from local ISPs. At that time, 2 Mbps lease line used to cost about INR 5,000 to INR 10,000 per month - while 8 Mbps 100 GB broadband plan used to cost about INR 1500 to INR 3,000 per month per connection.

However, majority of owners (specially the large pubs/bar locations) straight-forwardly refused to go for such plans as they had used such plans earlier and had terrible downtime experience!!!!! Initially I couldn't understand their rejection but soon I realized it was not about the cost, it was more about the reliability of the internet connections hence they were shelling out heavy on lease line connections.

So if we wanted business, we had to bring Reliable and Affordable internet connections even though we are not ISPs and never intend to do so.

We knew this problem was not that easy to solve but we were also determined to give our best shot.

We took one internet line (super hi-speed with unlimited data) from the most affordable ISP (MAIN LINE), then took another internet line of limited data and about 10-15 Mbps connectivity (BACKUP LINE) from a completely different ISP. We configured our routers/controllers' configuration to incorporate multiple internet lines and wrote smart scripts to track each internet connections' up-time and auto-switching ("Failover") to MAIN to BACKUP whenever it goes down and again re-switch to MAIN once it comes back. At the same time, it throws alerts to outlet manager to coordinate with the ISP to bring the MAIN Line up. We also implemented "Load Balancing" to ensure both internet lines are in use to accommodate traffic. All of such features are available with our Mikrotik configured controllers so clients didn't require to spend anything extra to configure Public Wi-Fi hotspots at their locations.

But don't owners know that with individual users having 1-2 GB per day data limit on their mobile handsets, do users still look for free wifi whenever they visit restaurants/salons?

I will keep this question for my next article but would be very interested in hearing your thoughts in comments section.

Above article is based on feedback and conversations with 300+ clients of ours at FreeG WiFi over the last 3 years including Future Retail Ltd, Hindustan Unilever Limited, Envi Salon, The Bar Stock Exchange, Agent Jacks, Doolally Taproom, Barbeque Nations, The Irish House, Xperia Retail Mall, and many more such brands across the sectors.

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