“WiFi is often perceived as a free service so operators are unsure how to monetise it…”: Santiago Lopez, VP Sales & Delivery, Fontech

Santiago Lopez, VP Sales & Delivery, Fontech

What’s Fon and Fontech’s global strategy for 2018?

Fon is the recognized pioneer in the deployment and operation of community WiFi networks in collaboration with telcos around the world. We now manage a growing network of over 21 million hotspots and plan to keep working in this area.

That said, the technology we’ve developed over the last 12 years is unmatched in the marketplace in terms of robustness and scalability, so we thought, why not expand that core to serve other markets and sectors? Particularly emerging markets, where WiFi will grow the most, and the corporate space, which also has WiFi needs. These tend to be slightly different to those of telcos, with more focus on additional features such as data gathering and marketing engagement besides pure connectivity and scalability.

This new strategy has several implications. Firstly, in terms of product design: We now have an expanded portfolio of WiFi solutions including Connectivity Experience, Guest WiFi, Enterprise WiFi, and Home WiFi, in addition to our advanced Carrier WiFi Solution. Secondly, in relation to our go-to-market strategy, our international sales team has grown significantly and we now have individuals covering new territories. This is supported by our indirect sales strategy, collaborating with channel partners such as local system integrators and distributors that have deep knowledge of their territories and the needs of their customers. We are also actively engaging with our traditional telco customers to help them to expand their business into the corporate space through our products and know-how.

What’s Fon and Fontech’s strategy in India during 2018? How do you plan to enter the Indian market?

There is huge potential for WiFi in India, for example, India alone is expected to have almost one billion unique mobile subscribers by 2020, and has just overtaken China as the country with the highest mobile data consumption at over one million terabytes per month. Furthermore, in the context of the Digital India programme, the Indian government is promoting WiFi deployments. And the presence of technology players like Google, with Google Station, or Facebook, with Express WiFi, only validates that this is the market to be in if you are serious about WiFi.

However, there are a number of reasons why WiFi has not been deployed to its full potential yet. One of the key factors is that operators lack sufficient incentives to invest in WiFi networks as WiFi is often perceived as a free service so operators are unsure how to monetize it, particularly due to the low ARPUs in the region. Deploying a WiFi network requires a substantial CAPEX investment only viable if the proper monetization strategies are adopted. Fontech’s Carrier WiFi Solution unlocks multiple use cases for operators to deliver WiFi services to their customers, including WiFi Monetisation!

In such a densely populated and price-sensitive market that is experiencing skyrocketing data demands, operators have to meet this need and deal with network congestion cost effectively. Fontech’s Carrier WiFi Solution also enables telcos to implement an offloading strategy.

We are already in discussions with a variety of organisations in India, both operators and enterprises. We are also actively looking to collaborate with local partners that can help us in this market, as mentioned in the previous question. We are particularly interested in local SIs with proven experience deploying WiFi networks, ideally used to working with telcos, that can enrich our proposition. What we offer them is our technology, which has been validated by strong Tier 1 telcos in mature markets, as well as our commitment to invest and grow together in this market.

I firmly believe that India will be one of the largest markets for Fontech in the next couple of years, both in terms of revenues and number of projects, working with telcos as well as in the corporate space.

India is looking at large scale deployment of WiFi services in 250,000 Gram Panchayats in 2018. Does Fon or Fontech have any suitable solution for this large scale deployment?

With a global presence that covers over 21 million hotspots worldwide, as well as experience in the rapid deployment of WiFi networks, Fontech has the technology suitable for deploying WiFi on a large scale.

Our WiFi Service Management Platform (WSMP) is vendor-agnostic, highly scalable, and provides high availability, being specially suited for large WiFi network management with flexibility for CSP to opt for On Cloud and On Premises deployment. On the other hand, our CPE software allows operators to transform isolated CPEs into WiFi networks in a matter of days, enabling a dual SSID mode configuration. As an example of this we can take a look at our client Proximus, which is the largest telco company in Belgium. With this deployment approach almost 300,000 hotspots were deployed instantly, getting to 600,000 in the first 3 months. After 6 months 50% of Proximus’ home routers had been turned into WiFi hotspots, reaching a total of 1.2 million hotspots.

Some companies in the WiFi space have a bottom-up approach, with inflexible product offerings that are very difficult to modify to meet specific requirements. Others come from a VAR/SI background, having started with a simple solution to a specific problem, on top of which they’ve continued to add more features. But they lack a strong and stable technological core around WiFi because they do many other things and struggle to keep innovating and incorporating new features.

Uniquely, Fon and Fontech combine a strong, robust, and scalable technological core, with a highly specialized Professional Services Team that can adapt our solutions to the needs of customers, while maintaining the consistency of the platform. This ensures a “best of both worlds” approach: Flexibility with robustness, integrability with evolvability.

Does Fon or Fontech have any solutions for Indian telcos?

We have been working with leading telcos globally for over a decade, and many top global service providers have put their trust in us to deliver their WiFi strategy. Fontech helps telcos deploy WiFi strategies using our technology, and our solution portfolio covers every aspect of WiFi delivery of all purposes, from network access to value-added services, connectivity experience, to security and control. Our solutions are suitable for WiFi deployments in public spaces, homes, venues, as well as workplaces.

Taking into account the specific context of the Indian market, where more than 90% of all broadband subscribers are mobile, there are two key product suited for this scenario: Fontech’s Carrier WiFi Solution enables telcos to deliver WiFi access services and manage them just like traditional cellular and fixed services. This cutting-edge solution unlocks multiple use cases for delivering WiFi services to customers such as WiFi Offload, Community WiFi and WiFi Monetization. As we mentioned before, offload is key in India’s price-sensitive market in order to meet increasing data demands cost-effectively. When talking about WiFi Monetization, this flexible solution allows operators to easily set the desired monetization scheme, all from a centralized platform. This scheme may be granting WiFi in exchange for a paid pass or contact details, a free time-limited pass, after viewing an advertisement, or even through wholesale agreements with other third parties.

Another of our cutting-edge solutions suited for Indian operators is our Connectivity Experience Solution, which empowers them to provide an always-best-connected experience to subscribers out-of-the-home. This solution is based on a Connection Manager on the user device that seamlessly connects it to the WiFi networks available, avoiding long or unfriendly authentication processes. But the icing on the cake comes with the QoE Manager, which is an advanced algorithm that can decide in real time, which is the best connectivity option among multiple WiFi networks or cellular. The decision is based on a score obtained with real-time information from radio scanning parameters and historical connection performance, as well as contextual information (e.g. user movements, network density, operator/user preferences). The QoE Manager is key to provide an always-best-connected experience and to move traffic from WiFi to cellular and viceversa seamlessly.

Our portfolio for operators is completed with our Home WiFi Solution , that empowers them to improve and gain control of subscribers’ home WiFi connectivity experience. Finally our Guest WiFi enables telcos to provide tailored guest WiFi services to businesses. Operators such as Vodafone are already targeting the SMB segment with this solution.

Does Fon or Fontech have any solutions for Indian enterprise customers?

For the enterprise market we have three main solutions: Our Guest WiFi Solution, which I mentioned before, is built to provide tailored guest WiFi services to businesses of all verticals and sizes. With it, businesses can segment networks into multi-level hierarchical structures and apply different guest WiFi business models and end-user WiFi experiences to each segment. This allows them to offer tailored WiFi services to different clients, significantly reducing operational costs. The solution provides service customization in terms of look and feel of the captive portal, the access method (click to connect, standard login, social media login), the contact information required for service registration (email, phone number, address), the monetization model (free, paid pass, coupons), campaigns, role segmentation, and profile assignation, among many other service rules. It also provides businesses with complete analytics to better understand their customers and it integrates easily with pre-existing management and billing systems.

This solution has been used successfully for multiple WiFi deployments, such as in Niseko Ski Station or Yokohama Chinatown, to provide not only WiFi access, but also to to attract tourism, enhance customer experience, and promote activities at the location.

In a guest WiFi scenario, our Connectivity Experience Solution is also suited for enterprises who want to integrate the SDK into existing apps. This way they can automate the connection to the WiFi network, while increasing engagement and keeping in touch with visitors. Travel Club, a leading European points-based loyalty program, included our SDK functionality in its existing app so that its six million members could connect to WiFi free and automatically in over 16 countries worldwide.

One of our latest solutions is Enterprise Control. It is a security solution for enterprises to manage the access to their private wireless networks. It allows them to manage security policies, user groups and their privileges, and device control and status. It is based on a multi-tenant platform and can easily be integrated with existing user directory databases. In short, it makes it easy to control who and what connects to your network at any time.

Being the largest WiFi hotspot player in the world with 21 million hotspots, how do you plan to solve WiFi interoperability issues in India?

Users want to be able to move from one place to another while remaining seamlessly connected. Fontech supports this ambition with its Connectivity Experience Solution. As mentioned before, this solution is an intelligent piece of software that can be integrated into any iOS or Android app, delivering instant WiFi access to the end user. Our technology helps users to seamlessly move from one network to another, regardless the authentication technology (WISPr, EAP, etc). We’ve built the global WiFi network of 21 million hotspots by aggregating our partners’ residential and prime public WiFi footprints, and users can connect seamlessly all over the world.

How is Fon and Fontech accelerating innovation in the WiFi space? Can you explain some of the latest innovations and how they benefit consumers, operators, and corporate customers?

Since our inception, innovation has been a fundamental part of our DNA and we have continued to develop solutions that anticipate the changing needs of our clients. One exciting project we are currently focused on is developing a neutral host solution, as we presented at the last SCWS. Key for a market such as India, where telecom operators are separate tower companies, this solution will bring significant benefits to all market stakeholders through improved connectivity in large indoor spaces such as stadiums, malls, or arenas.

In addition to ongoing internal projects, our innovation team is actively involved in a variety of industry organisations, helping to drive developments in the WiFi ecosystem, for example through collaboration on WBA white papers on important industry issues.

Last month you have signed a deal with Sri Lanka Telecom to deliver WiFi to 4 million customers. Are you looking at opportunities in other SAARC countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. What’s your SAARC strategy?

SAARC countries comprise of huge populations and potential. However, in many cases they lack necessary infrastructure. Current penetration of WiFi across the entire SAARC region is low compared with the rest of the world. But it will certainly grow now because of enormous data demand.

Fon has entered into the SAARC region the right time, with healthy demand for advanced WiFi solutions which can simultaneously help CSPs to monetize their WiFi networks. We will have more exciting announcements from the region shortly.