The CEO of WiFi service provider iPass, Gary Griffiths, has been working hard recently to convince investors that, after two years of work, he is transforming the company into something new and different. The company is almost out of money, but it has a series of new business models which should generate new growth.
When Griffiths took over iPass it had a clear problem. It asked for $25 a month for each customer and promised them a log-in to about 30m WiFi hotspots all over the world. This was challenging, at least in its main market, the US, once T-Mobile USA offered unlimited cellular and both Verizon and AT&T followed. Even before that, enterprises were always pushing back on price, and how much data they were allowed for that price.
So, like anyone with an application installed on a large number of devices, Griffiths – with a history of working in software-as-a-service businesses – began to see value in the huge amount of data iPass has. It has details of how much comes into a device from a particular access point, and the number of APs that iPass can access has now moved up to 63m, so that can be parlayed into valuable information about devices and data usage patterns.
Big data will be a big boost to the model, but the roots of this corporate salvation started way back in April 2015 when iPass gambled on an unlimited WiFi package for enterprise customers – a necessity to keep its customer base onside, in order to stay around long enough to develop new streams of technology and revenue.
Effectively, it prevented access point owners running a clock on iPass customers, so they could charge more. This in itself would have been a tough deal to swing. iPass network providers all have a contract which governs how much they can charge iPass to use their WiFi (network access costs or NAC). It had to get most of its major providers to agree to charge on a different or lower basis.
Then the first software product came out, a year later, to take the pain out of finding and connecting to an AP for any iPass enterprise clients. This was in the form of a product called SmartConnect which came out in February 2016, offering a roaming app for WiFi which takes users in and out of the best AP invisibly. There were other products which could select the best AP, based on cost, quality of connection or automated credentials management. But Griffiths said: “We had quite a lot of IPR in that sector and wanted to build something of our own.”
Are MNOs still interested in WiFi offload? “Big carriers in Europe are very keen on it,” he added. “And with our dashboard they can control it, and push new policies to devices. But also we can sell them Veri-Fi.”
Veri-Fi lets an operator engage intelligently with WiFi, gaining insights into user behavior, and enabling applications based on accurate WiFi infrastructure location data.
The firm has now found a secondary market for that data, in the form of Adtech and Fintech companies. Advertisers are often prepared to pay a bit more to know about people who are close to a place where they can purchase a particular product or service, and Fintech companies want to be able to know where the owner of a particular credit card is geographically, not just so they can prevent fraud, but actually to maximize the use of that card at that location. If a lot of card users go to a particular store, an in-store promotion may serve both retailer and financial services company, so iPass is now selling this real time data to technology firms addressing this market. “This has big applications in retail finance and in the hospitality markets,” said Griffiths.