& cplSiteName &

Can Towerstream Make $$ With Free Wi-Fi?

Kaps Korner
Kaps Korner
Kaps Korner
11/4/2011
50%
50%

11:00 AM -- SAN FRANCISCO -- Open Mobile Summit 2011 -- Now that Towerstream Corp. (Nasdaq: TWER) has built the world's biggest hot spot, how can the company tap the heat to generate profits?

That's the chicken-and-egg question facing the wireless supplier, which is looking for a way to increase its potential beyond its historic practice of providing low-cost broadband to businesses as a T-1 replacement. At the Open Mobile Summit on Wednesday, Towerstream CEO Jeff Thompson gave a presentation on the public Wi-Fi network Towerstream launched in New York City this summer, which has eye-popping stats like being able to deliver downstream data rates of almost 80 Mbit/s to a laptop right outside the entrance to Penn Station. He also chatted with Light Reading Mobile's Sarah Reedy:

Using its WiMax-based technology -- the same technology Towerstream uses to deliver fixed-wireless broadband services to businesses in 12 large metro markets around the country -- Towerstream first built a backbone "ring" around Manhattan's man-made canyons and then linked its microwave antennas to more than 1,000 Wi-Fi access points to deliver Internet service to ground level. Through an advertising partner this summer Towerstream traded four hours of free service to users who would agree to a marketing transaction -- downloading an app, using a "daily deal" coupon or watching some ads on their phone.

Though Thompson wouldn't divulge exact performance numbers -- we may learn more on Towerstream's quarterly earnings call next week -- Towerstream is already moving ahead with plans to launch similar networks in San Francisco and Chicago sometime soon. According to Thompson the Wi-Fi strategy is targeted at a desirable if not exactly affluent demographic -- the 18-to-34-year-old user who may not have a lot of disposable income, but is Internet-savvy and knows how to find the best deals when it comes to connectivity.

"There are a lot of people between 18 and 34 who know how to get online for cheap," Thompson said. While big carriers don't like to talk about low-end pricing, Thompson sees the bottom part of the wireless market as a place that is ripe for growth -- and it won't come from so-called "4G" plans from the big carriers, especially since almost all those plans now come with a data-use cap.

"Frankly, a lot of those plans are just too expensive for a lot of people to use," Thompson said. "These are people who will walk a half an hour to use free Wi-Fi, or walk a half hour to a retail outlet where they can pay cash for their cellular phone."

Yet that same demographic, along with the rest of the world, is hungry for more mobile data -- a need users are increasingly satisfying via a Wi-Fi connection, either at a business that offers the hookup for free or via a subscription plan through a service like Boingo or iPass. Towerstream's plan is to allow advertisers to pay Towerstream so that users can access the Wi-Fi for free, simply by doing a quick transaction at the log-in screen. In addition to being able to reach a large audience quickly -- Towerstream had one day this summer with more than 500,000 sessions on its network -- Towerstream can offer advertisers extremely granular location-based control due to the proximity of user to an access point.

"You can have a daily deal ad that only reaches someone who is 300 feet away from the store," Thompson said. On the other end of the scale, Towerstream is also a potential partner for large service providers like AT&T or Verizon, who are now building their own public Wi-Fi hot spots to alleviate cellular coverage pressure, both in urban areas and in high-congestion spots like sports stadiums. Though Towerstream hasn't announced any big-carrier deals, the potential for a bigger revenue stream has been one potential reason why Wall Street players have juiced the company's stock price over the past year or so, moving from around a dollar a share for most of 2009 to a $3-to-$5 range throughout 2011.

If it fails to nab a big-name partner, Towerstream might also just start branding the service under its own name, bringing a new twist to the business that Thompson and his team started way back in 2001, well before the current mobile data craze could have been imagined. But with low costs of entry -- Thompson said it cost Towerstream less than $10 million to build its New York network, and with just about every device having a Wi-Fi chip these days Towerstream doesn't have to supply users with any new hardware or devices -- it's an experiment that's worth at least trying, and could be worth a lot more if Towerstream can attract both advertisers and users to the "data oases" it is building.

— Paul Kapustka is editor and founder of Sidecut Reports, an independent research firm that specializes in wireless technologies. Special to Light Reading. He is also the editor of Mobile Sports Report, a new site that lives at the intersection of mobile-social technologies and sports.

(5)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
shygye75
50%
50%
shygye75,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 4:49:37 PM
re: Can Towerstream Make $$ With Free Wi-Fi?


OK, it's Friday afternoon. The coffee pot has been drained. Leftover Baby Ruths consumed. But I'm having some trouble following the money here. So the idea is to get advertisers to spend money to attract people who either can't or won't pay for mobile data service, and are frugal and time-rich enough to "walk a half-hour to use free Wi-Fi"?

kaps
50%
50%
kaps,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:49:37 PM
re: Can Towerstream Make $$ With Free Wi-Fi?


Is that such a bad idea? Frugal doesn't mean broke. Why not a daily deal ad from Old Navy, or from other discount retailers?


I think Thompson (and other providers like MetroPCS) is wise to go after the part of the market the Verizons of the world are leaving behind. Each deal may not be worth a lot of ARPU but Walmart makes a lot of money selling stuff for cheap.


Hell, why not have Walmart step up and advertise? It would go hand in hand with their cheap cellphone plans.

kaps
50%
50%
kaps,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:49:37 PM
re: Can Towerstream Make $$ With Free Wi-Fi?


Is that such a bad idea? Frugal doesn't mean broke. Why not a daily deal ad from Old Navy, or from other discount retailers?


I think Thompson (and other providers like MetroPCS) is wise to go after the part of the market the Verizons of the world are leaving behind. Each deal may not be worth a lot of ARPU but Walmart makes a lot of money selling stuff for cheap.


Hell, why not have Walmart step up and advertise? It would go hand in hand with their cheap cellphone plans.

shygye75
50%
50%
shygye75,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 4:49:36 PM
re: Can Towerstream Make $$ With Free Wi-Fi?


Given today's run-up on Groupon shares, it's obvious that any idea can be made to seem attractive to some "savvy" investors for a certain period of time. Plying cheap people with loss-leader deals does sound like a winner in that context.

techstocker
50%
50%
techstocker,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:49:26 PM
re: Can Towerstream Make $$ With Free Wi-Fi?


Good analysis PK. Stock number has hovered BELOW 3 (2.80 close 11/9) rather than the 3-5 that it has been. It's shaky. Towerstream spent a lot of money on the Wi-Fi network in NYC and it certainly remains to be seen if any money can be made on it. With LTE and AT&T and Verizon building their OWN WiFi with deep pockets, it seems tenuous. Maybe some money can be made in the concrete canyons but enough to make it profitable?......Not as it stands.

CraigPlunkett
50%
50%
CraigPlunkett,
User Rank: Moderator
12/5/2012 | 4:46:50 PM
re: Can Towerstream Make $$ With Free Wi-Fi?


I took the network for a spin at the corner of Broadway and Canal last week.  I have a data plan, but use Wi-Fi alot.  I connected to the Blis NY Wi-Fi SSID, and opened a web browser.  I was asked to download either of two apps.  I chose the Audible.com app, and downloaded a sample chapter of Farewell to Arms.  I then had a couple hours of free Wi-Fi.  I only used a couple of minutes worth to download the app and check out the network performance.  But the audible.com app is now on my phone, and every once in a while I think about buying something from them. 


Performance was pretty good, much better than the HSPA network for my phone.


The trouble is is that you have to know to open a browser to use the network.  I'm not sure what the conversion is between attachment to the SSID and actual logins, AKA tryers vs. buyers.

More Blogs from Kaps Korner
7:00 AM What prevents more companies from building seamless networks made of stitched-together hot spots?
6:00 AM With nearly ubiquitous Wi-Fi, industry folks and academics are looking to unlicensed spectrum to expand broadband's reach and cut down on its costs
10:30 AM Mobile video isn't the next big thing; it's the big thing that's happening right here, right now
12:30 PM Here's what you need to know if you have a mobile device or a connected laptop
11:15 AM Gig.U says it has received replies to its RFI from major vendors and service providers. Are university-led gigabit networks sounding less far-fetched?
From The Founder
Kicking off BCE 2017, Light Reading founder Steve Saunders lays blame for NFV's slow ramp-up and urges telecom to return to old-fashioned standards building and interoperability.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink: Let's Get Past SD-WAN Hype

6|23|17   |   04:02   |   (0) comments


Technology becomes a "shiny object" unless it's properly focused on solving business needs for enterprise customers, says Bill Grubbs, network solutions architect for CenturyLink. He explains to Light Reading why SD-WAN deployments have to be tailored to specific needs – and more.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Infinera's Sales Director Paints Tech's Big Picture

6|21|17   |   4:14   |   (1) comment


Shannon Williams, Infinera's director of sales, shares how she achieves work's many balancing acts -- between her role and the broader company, today and tomorrow's tech and more.
LRTV Custom TV
SD-WAN Innovation & Trends

6|20|17   |     |   (0) comments


Versa CEO Kelly Ahuja discusses with Carol Wilson the current status and trends in the SD-WAN market, Versa's innovation around building a software platform with broad contextualization, and the advantages that startups can bring to the SD-WAN market.
LRTV Interviews
Ovum's Dario Talmesio on 5G in Europe

6|20|17   |   02:16   |   (0) comments


At 5G World 2017, Dario Talmesio, principal analyst and practice leader on Ovum's fixed and mobile telecoms European team, explains the emerging trends amongst European operators as they prepare for 5G.
LRTV Custom TV
Putting Power on a Pedestal

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


ARRIS's John Ulm says a major accomplishment of SCTE•ISBE's Energy 2020 program is increased focus on power cost and consumption, including inclusion of energy requirements in operators' RFPs and RFIs.
LRTV Custom TV
Gigabit Access: The Last-Mile Pipe for All Future Services

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


A Gigabit access platform being deployed today must be able to deliver all types of services to an increasing number of devices. A non-blocking architecture is necessary to support the ever-increasing growth in bandwidth demand. The Huawei Gigabit access solution is based on a distributed design that is fully scalable to deliver a unprecedented performance.
LRTV Custom TV
Key Factors to Successfully Deploy an SD-WAN Service

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


As service providers transition their SD-WAN solution from trials and limited deployments into production at large scale, there are important considerations to successfully operationalize these solutions and realize their full potential, without adding complexity, introducing uncertainty or disrupting current business operations. Sunil Khandekar, CEO and Founder ...
LRTV Custom TV
IoT Solutions: Rational Exuberance

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


IoT solutions are morphing from hype into viable business opportunities. Huawei has the platform and ecosystem support to help carriers successfully address new business opportunities in the IoT space.
LRTV Custom TV
Realizing ICN as a Network Slice for Mobile Data Distribution

6|19|17   |     |   (1) comment


Network slicing in 5G allows the potential introduction of new network architectures such as Information-centric Networks (ICN) as a slice, managed over a shared pool of compute, storage and bandwidth resource. Services over an ICN slice can benefit from many architectural features such as Name Based Networking, Security, Multicasting, Multi-homing, Mobility, ...
LRTV Interviews
Ovum's Mike Roberts on 5G Uptake

6|19|17   |   04:08   |   (0) comments


Mike Roberts, research director for Ovum's service provider markets group, explains why he has boosted his 5G subscriptions forecast.
LRTV Interviews
AT&T's Hubbard on Intersection of SD-WAN & MPLS

6|15|17   |     |   (0) comments


Rick Hubbard, SVP of Network Product Management for AT&T Business Solutions, discusses how AT&T's approach to SD-WAN fits in with its overall virtualization strategy, explains how SD-WAN can improve enterprise customers' use of the cloud and addresses the intersection of SD-WAN and MPLS.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Keep Connected IoT Devices Under Control With Allot

6|15|17   |     |   (0) comments


Allot AVP of International Pre-Sales, Daniel Keidar, explains how communications service providers can protect infrastructure and service availability from flooding attacks caused by malfunctioning or bot-infected devices connected to their network.
Upcoming Live Events
October 18, 2017, Colorado Convention Center - Denver, CO
November 1, 2017, The Montcalm Marble Arch
November 1, 2017, The Montcalm Marble Arch
November 30, 2017, The Westin Times Square
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
Netflix's Lesson in Culture Expectation Settings
Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 6/21/2017
No Imagination: UK Chip Biz Goes Up for Sale
Iain Morris, News Editor, 6/22/2017
Kalanick Steps Down as Uber CEO
Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 6/21/2017
BT Tech Chief Makes Plea to 5G Chip Vendors
Ray Le Maistre, International Group Editor, 6/20/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Following a recent board meeting, the New IP Agency (NIA) has a new strategy to help accelerate the adoption of NFV capabilities, explains the Agency's Founder and Secretary, Steve Saunders.
One of the nice bits of my job (other than the teeny tiny salary, obviously) is that I get to pick and choose who I interview for this slot on the Light Reading home ...
Animals with Phones
Some of You Can Relate Click Here
Latest Comment
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.