Interview with the Founders of Bamboowifi: A Forthcoming Local Wireless ISP

If you’ve ever found yourself saying “[ISP] sucks!” and felt trapped by your lack of viable alternatives, Bamboowifi has a message for you. A NEW CHALLENGER HAS ENTERED THE RING.

Panda, Bamboo, get it?

Bamboowifi’s kickboxing duo – James Gregory and David Platt – hope to bring a no-wire, no-hassle, and no-nonsense experience to broadband when their brand new ISP is successfully Kickstarted. Initially they’ll provide service to the Fishtown and Northern Liberties sections of our city. For $30 a month, end-users will have unlimited access Bamboowifi wherever there will be Wireless Access Point (WAP) coverage. Businesses who decide to become WAPs will pay a one-time setup fee, eschew the monthly costs and continue to serve free WiFi to their customers.

Bamboowifi Founders David Platt (Left) and James Gregory (Right)

Bamboowifi Founders David Platt (Left) and James Gregory (Right)

Bamboowifi WAP owners – in what may well be an industry-first – would also be able to monetize this service by getting a kickback from customers who subscribe to Bamboowifi via their access points. As James puts it, “If someone comes to One Shot Coffee on [American] Street, they can use their WiFi for free like normal or they could get the option to sign up as our end customer. If they do that, One Shot would get a kickback every month. If you’re a place with a lot of foot traffic, you could conceivably have a decent side business.” He adds that WAP owners could also get the option to customize their access portal splash screen, offering things like drink specials or coupons.

The affable pair seem excited and eager to serve both communities. One couldn’t help but get the sense that this was a passion project for them, and during our interview, they frequently reiterated that they’re launching this service to serve their friends and business owners with whom they’ve established great relationships with. They offer that a large part of the customer complaints about ISPs stem from the equipment necessary – be it the electronics not working or the technician not showing up to install the equipment – and that cutting out the equipment necessary greatly reduces the calls which lead to customer service complaints. In my personal experience, their point is valid.

James says “One of the big things that [complaints] stems from the need for home equipment. When we build our network, all you’re going to do is pay money and you’ll be on the internet.”

David: “With any luck, you’ll never have to speak to a person. [laughs]”

That idea sounds great to me. But what exactly are they offering? And how do they hope to deliver it? The pair and I spent the better part of an hour talking about just that.

IMG_0948One of my biggest concerns when it comes to ISPs is bandwidth for data intensive applications such as gaming and Netflix streaming. Will Bamboowifi support these?
J: We’ll have comparable WiFi to Comcast, within the same range. We’re working with 20Mbps down. It’s not just in your house though. [You’ll have] the same quality and service in your home as you would in the park. There’s no difference.

D: We’ll have the same bandwidth available comparable to what you get from Comcast or Verizon. Once the pilot area is built out and we expand, if we notice that there’s a demand for a higher bandwidth. We have the capability of opening it up. We’re not limited to that 20 Mbps. For the price that we’re offering, that’s what’s realistic.

The infrastructure will be in place to offer more bandwidth down the line?
D: Yes, it will be. We have a set price right now because we want to establish ourselves. I could see it right now, offering 100Mbps [if someone wanted it] but pumping up the price a bit, but it’s not something we’re offering yet. It’s something we’re thinking about.
J: It’s important to think about our demographic right now. We’re really not targeting people who need tons of bandwidth. What we’re targeting is millenials – people 20 to 30 [years old] – basically the cord-cutters. People who don’t want to pay for their cable or home phone. People that just want an internet subscription that they can reliably use to access the sites they regularly [visit]. It’s a cost argument in addition to the convenience argument.

Initially, we’re not looking for the people who want 100Mbps service. It comes a little bit outside of our target.

We know you’re focusing on Fishtown and NoLibs. What about perspective clients in other parts of the city?
D: Well that’s we’ve discussed as our stretch goals for our Kickstarter. Say we’re successful and we get our funding very quickly, we could creep up into Kensington or the Art Museum area. It’s a matter of placing more access points and landing another backbone line. We kind of want to do NoLibs and Fishtown because it’s a high concentration of millenials and geographically and architectural it’s conducive to what we want to do. […] If our Kickstarter is successful, we’d like to cover all of Philly

J: We can grow organically as much as there is demand. As long as the demand is there, we can build out quickly and that’s kind of where the bamboo idea comes from.

D: Obvious this is a business, but we have a cause too. One of the problems the ISP market is that there hasn’t been a lot of competition and as a result it’s just a couple of really crappy companies. We think we have some good ideas, especially with the marketing stuff but a lot of what we do is just giving the people the things they’re asking for. We want to come across that we’re giving people what they want. Net neutrality is a very important issue to us. Regardless of what the FCC decides of what the big guys are allowed to do, we’ll always be net neutral.

J: Guaranteed net neutral.

D: That’s a big part of it for us.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
bamboo-wifi-random-tea-roomOne thing we’d like to touch on is what we’re doing for local businesses. Right now, if you’re a local business your WiFi that your offer to your customer cost. You’re going to be paying for a monthly internet bill and there’s really not a lot of ways that that’s monetized for a independent small business. We’re making ways for them to monetize offering free WiFi.

Take Starbucks for example. When you go in and use their WiFi, you see a splash screen and typically they make you sign in. That business doesn’t have to do any work. All we would be doing is taking an email address or social media login from there and putting that end-customer (WAP) into basically a sales role. It would all be automated. We would just grab their e-mail and say ‘Hey, would you like a discount? Become a Bamboowifi customer! X% off” if they sign up, then that referring business where that splash screen came up would get a percent of the business. So there’s no additional work for the business owner.

Left: Marcie Hull, Technology Coordinator SLA; Middle: David Plat, Bamboowifi CEO; Right: Wynn Geary, SLA Student Project Leader

In the time since this interview was conducted, a significant development emerged. Bamboowifi is partnering with the Science Leadership Academy. Marcie Hull, Technology Coordinator of SLA, reached out to Bamboowifi in hopes that her students would get hands-on knowledge about networks and net-neutrality. SLA is an “inquiry-driven, project-based high school” and this project was seen as a perfect fit. Bamboowifi gains an eager volunteer workforce from the community it hopes to service and SLA is granted the unique opportunity to ply its craft on a budding and promising technological undertaking. SLA’s students will be providing assistance on the Kickstarter page, including video and graphic work. James says “having our own little ‘Student Army’ is pretty much a dream come true for us, and we feel good about giving Wynn and the students a real-world project to work on that could potentially make a huge difference. “

Lucky kids!

A huge thank you to James and David for their time! We’ll be sure to keep you updated on this exciting new ISP. In the meantime, they’ve begun crowdfunding, please check out their recently launched Kickstarter campaign.

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One Response to “Interview with the Founders of Bamboowifi: A Forthcoming Local Wireless ISP”

  1. February 28, 2015

    David Acker

    What kind of wifi hardware are they going to use? Will it use meshing or will every node be connected to a wired connection? Wifi has been tried in Philly before. How will this be different?