Marketing Wireless in the Web 2.0 World

Part 1

You’re building an ubiquitous wireless network in a major city (Minneapolis). You have a pilot area (one-square mile) running and reasonably stable. You can’t start building until March and it will be the end of 2007 before you finish deployment over 60 sq. miles.

What should you do in the meantime?

Here are ten ways to market your services and to create a positive buzz about Wi-Fi. (In no particular order.)

  1. Don’t charge anything for now. In fact, give us free accounts for a year and we’ll help you troubleshoot problems.
  2. Start blogging about the deployment. In fact, start blogging about your company. Be as transparent as you can. Make sure the CEO is blogging.
  3. Lend out your Ruckus Metroflex Wireless Access Gateway units. We’ll pay a deposit and return it in good working condition or buy it if we like the Wi-Fi
  4. Help us optimize service and set up networks in our homes. You will learn as much as we do and foster good will.
  5. Hold events at Wi-Fi hotspots in the pilot area.
  6. Give away some of the Ruckus units at the events. (Winners must prove they live in the pilot area!)
  7. Give away some of the 3-6Mbps accounts.
  8. Meet with the community to educate them about the Internet and wireless. Talk to PTAs, senior centers, trade groups, and neighborhood groups. Engage the people with how cool the Internet is. Don’t sell anything! In fact, answer questions honestly about the competition, and discuss the pros and cons of Wi-Fi.
  9. Start working on digital inclusion initiatives.
  10. Engage the open source and software development community in the Twin Cities. Attend Minnebar and Minnedemo and read the blogs.
  11. Give us cool lawn signs advertising our USI Wi-Fi connection.
  12. As you build out, give away some accounts in each neighborhood. Hold a street party with a raffle.

Part 2

Things aren’t working out quite as planned for USI Wireless, chosen Wi-Fi vendor for the City of Minneapolis. Deployment is delayed due to the slow contract approval process with the city, and the leaves falling off the trees. (They wanted to test and design while the leaves were still on the trees.)

USI sent out a letter this week to residents in Minneapolis who live in the one-square-mile pilot project area. (See the letter here.) They want to sell accounts to us, get a revenue stream going and make some money while they’re waiting to build.

Whatever they make from this promotion, I don’t think it will be worth as much as the intangible rewards to be gained by keeping access free for now and trying some of my Part 1 ideas.

Details of the Offer

They are offering to sell us accounts within the pilot area for a reduced rate — $14.95 for basic service — for a year. Two hundred fifty accounts are available; first come, first served. After the first year, subscribers would pay the standard rate of $19.95 per month.

They guarantee 1Mbps service (upload and download) (and up to 3Mbps) if you buy or lease a “wireless modem”: $80 or $5 per month. I called USI and someone there said that this is the Ruckus Metroflex Wireless Access Gateway that they used at the south pilot project rollout. (I can’t confirm that it’s that particular model.) You connect to the Ruckus via ethernet. If you want internal wireless, you need to purchase an internal wireless access point and connect it to the Ruckus.

They also offer a 3 to 6Mbps level for $24.99.

The price includes the ISP charge, and the Ruckus unit adds Wi-Fi connectivity to any computer you own with no modification. Best price you could get from Qwest DSL (Choice Deluxe) is $26.99 per month for 1.5Mbps download, 896Kbps upload and that’s a special. So it’s definitely comparable.

I will be surprised if they can sell 250 accounts.


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