Saturday, April 10, 2010

Open Ubiquitous WiFi

Over the last few weeks I've been researching and thinking about new ventures as I'm always entertaining new ideas. As a corporate boycotter and pariah, my only real choice in life is working for myself.

Unfortunately I've been suffering from a track record that could be better: was my first true business in the sense that I put my money down and make it work...we were selling $12,000 a month in goods at our peak. Of course, being a novice without much wise guidance, the company could not stay profitable. Try competing with PetsMart and now. Five years ago it was a lot easier!

FriendTones was the company from which I harnessed all the lessons I'd learned from UVA business school and my work experiences. I learned what "good" software was at MicroStrategy (specifially under Sam Aparicio and with the late Amit Agarwal. The idea of FriendTones was anything but simple, but to the user it was one of the best applications to make custom ringtones for your phone, downloaded right from your computer. We had over 11,000 users before we again ran out of money due to an account receivable for $5k not paying up. Again, I was crushed and back at square one.

For two years since the collapse of FriendTones, I've literally been shell shocked and have some sort of software PTSD. Then my mind did what it always does, come up with ideas that are pretty good.

You may have guessed from the title of this article that I'm writing about WiFi. So here it is. What if instead of everyone locking their routers for their own home network, we provided a safe way from everyone to share and open their routers? This would allow people to walk down mainstreet in most all urban areas without ever losing a WiFi signal. People without internet at home could tap into the free WiFi network that will be (mark my words) created.

It's a logical step in the evolution of computing when you think about it. 20 years ago those with a computer could word process, spreadsheet it, play solitaire, and that was about it. No computers were connected to anything but a power outlet.

Then came dial-up and the subsequent internet frenzy connecting all the existing computers together in a sense via phone lines, cable, and fiber.

Most all people have or will soon get a wireless router (WiFi compatible). And, we are locking our resources via encouraged security with passwords for our WiFi networks. The cost of sharing WiFi would be pennies on the dollar. Not to mention that if WiFi truly did become ubiquitous, then use of so many devices, specifically carrier cell-phones would become obsolete.

Skype, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, IM (yeah the last piece of AOL), allow computer to computer calling in the US for free. If a "WiFi cell-phone" is connected to a network and you call another friend who has a WiFi cell, there is NO cost of a service plan, minutes, or any other product a carrier like AT&T or Verizon can offer. The carriers start crumbling as consumers realize the benefit of FREE-DOM from the carriers. And, who could say no to not getting a monthly cell-phone bill for $150?

This idea is coming to fruition slowly. There are so many different types of routers it's a technical challenge to make them all work together and provide the services I've talked about (much like trying to program for the hundreds of models of phones on the market).

Yet, one day the the carriers will become a business of the past like long-distance and old telephone lines. If you don't believe me, look how Verizon and AT&T are at each other's throats in their TV commericals. I bet you can remember how vicious long-distance companies (MCI & AT&T) became competing for your business at the end of the long-distance product life-cycle. The same is happening with cell-phone service today. It's only a matter of time before WiFi, cell phone service, and who knows what else is free. It may be hard to monetize a company that provides all free services, but the company that does it (Google in my opinion, or a really good start-up) will be worth billions.

And thats today's word.


  1. A 90% baked idea (par for the course I'd wager). The trouble is that regulation and massive infrastructure investments make these businesses what they are, and if we relied on the network to replace other communications services the telcos will find ways make sure their prices for Internet services are higher to compensate for shifting demand away from traditional phone services. They'll probably succeed, making this plan much closer to dollar-for-dollar.

  2. I think you're right on, that we'll probably see an evolution of the phone companies into another animal. But, disruptive technologies to come will rival the big boys. Who wins? We'll see.


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