India is the fastest growing country in the digital world but besides serving as a biggest smartphone user base, a significant portion of its population does not have an internet connection.
In a bid to bring access to low-cost internet connection most of the telecom operators in the country are initiating new schemes on their carriers. Also, there are big tech firms such as Facebook and Google who are working towards deploying broadband networks in India through Wi-Fi and public hotspots. However, their impact is slow.
But who had thought that a faster and cheaper internet connection could be bought from a nearby chai walla.
Two years ago Karam Lakshman and Shubhendu Sharma, from Bangalore, built an app for the city’s taxi drivers. The app failed due to ‘expensive’ 3G rates.
“After listening to 3G is too expensive hundred of times over, we realised we were addressing the wrong problem,” Lakshman told Deccan Chronicle.
“Apps are great, but connectivity in India is a huge problem. You're only going to get the next 'killer app' coming out of India once there's a reasonable level of internet connectivity,” he added.
After acknowledging the issue, the duo settled on WiFi Dabba, a startup which sells internet in ‘sachets’ at small merchant locations, from tea stalls to bakeries, at an affordable price.
“Think of it this way, when FMCG companies first entered India they found that their shampoo bottles were too expensive, so they turned them into sachets and sold them at a low amount. We're doing the same with the internet and we think we can grow that into a line of digital FMCG products,” Lakshman explained.
“We think you can buy digital goods the same way you buy tea or biscuits.”
The startup sells tokens at about 100 small merchant locations across Bangalore for the services, with cost varying as per data usage distributed in three tiers. For Rs 2 the service provides 100MB, while Rs 10 offers 500MB and Rs 20 has 1GB. However, customers will have to pre-pay for the service from merchants, who shares 20 per cent revenue on each customer.
The startup is aiming to roll out its service nationwide.
A description on WiFi Dabba’s website reads “The government is not gonna do it, the big companies shouldn’t be allowed to do it.”
“We think that the government should let the market deal with this problem simply because it'll lead to better service for the consumer. When it comes to technology, the stiffer the competition, the better the state-of-the-art becomes and progress happens faster. Same thing with big companies, they are slow moving and tend to use slightly older solutions. Startups are the ones that usually push the boundaries and innovate in ways that help the consumer,” Lakshman went on to explain.
“What sets us apart from Google and Facebook is that we're utterly neutral in our service. We're not subsidised by advertising or any long term agenda. We don't have any free plans or trials. We believe in offering a great service and at a fair price. The consumer pays for high speed internet and gets high speed internet, no strings attached,” Lakshman said.