A Cape Town-based company has come up with a way of allowing coffee shops and restaurants to offer their customers sustainable, stable and free wireless access – without compromising their bottom line.
Typically, coffee shop patrons in Europe and the US get free hotspot access, but this hasn't yet become the norm in the South African market.
Barry Steyn, finance and operations director at RedButton, explains that the company has been able to develop its product with support from the Bandwidth Barn and the Cape Information Technology Initiative's (CITi) VeloCITI programme.
While entrepreneurs at heart and technically strong, the team at RedButton had limited business management skills. In 2007, they entered the VeloCITI programme which offers mentoring for IT entrepreneurs, and were soon able to launch the product to market.
Currently, RedButton has 162 hotspot sites, almost a quarter of which offer free Internet access.
RedButton's solution enables a hotspot to control when and how WiFi is given away for free. For example, a hotspot may choose to only offer free WiFi in quiet times as a way to entice further customers. Or a hotspot may choose to cap a user's access in peak times – once they reach that limit they are prompted to switch to a prepaid solution.
"This gives the hotspot the ability to offer free access without putting their entire business at risk," says Steyn. "It protects them from customers who buy one cup of coffee and chew up all the bandwidth by downloading a lot of data. It also gives the hotspot additional marketing tools to attract customers in slow times."
According to Steyn, South Africa's telecommunications climate calls for businesses to find innovative solutions to offer a global standard of service without compromising their profitability.