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Biz Journal: Local duo creates Internet company to compete with Comcast, Verizon

February 25, 2015 Category: Method

This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal here.

A startup duo wants to give Internet users in Philadelphia a more affordable, versatile and practical alternative to the Comcasts and Verizons of the world.

David Platt, 43, and James Gregory, 35, have been spearheading Bamboowifi, a wireless Internet service provider, since last year. (If you’ve ever seen people trotting around in panda suits in Northern Liberties or Fishtown, it was probably them.) They hope to start in those neighborhoods then branch out from there.

Their mission throughout the past few months has been to raise awareness for their startup, which will partner with local businesses to host Bamboowifi access points (sometimes called hot spots). An access point is a router and a repeater, Platt explained in a phone conversation this week. “A strong one,” he said, that “can cover up to a quarter of a mile.”

The access points’ reach will overlap, providing a strong enough WiFi signal to cover, say, an entire neighborhood.

Here’s a scenario: Imagine using WiFi to listen to music app Pandora on your iPhone in your apartment. When you take a walk outside, you’ll still be connected to that WiFi, and can seamlessly continue listening to your music. That’s because businesses, notably coffee shops or restaurants, surrounding you will host the access points.

The product offered to average customers wouldn’t have any equipment — thus, there’s no need for installation. Bamboowifi will be the wireless Internet option, and users will simply have to sign in with their username and password.

How it works on Bamboowifi’s end: The access points have to connect to the Internet at some point, so the company will lease wholesale Internet from telecommunications companies, such as Level 3, XO, FiberLight or Equinox, to name a few examples.

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Platt said he and Gregory are still figuring out how prices will be laid out for customers, but an example he could give was of a regular monthly subscription ringing in at $30, allowing up to two devices at a time connected by and running on the WiFi.

Gregory said they might offer certain subscription levels for avid gamers. They might allow a monthly subscription for a certain amount of bandwidth no matter how many devices are connected.

“We’re letting it evolve in a response to what people want,” Gregory said. “We have a vision, but part of that is being a company that listens to our customers.”

When asked about security, Platt said the access points would be at a higher level of security than most people have in their home WiFi. That’s thanks to Air Marshal, a wireless intrusion prevention solution.

Chris Alfano, a co-founder of developer firm Jarv.us, which is based on N3rd Street in Northern Liberties, said he loves the idea the pair has presented.

“I think when it comes to competition in Philly for ISPs, they’ve come up with the only practical way to bring another entry to the market,” Alfano said.

Platt and Gregory are hoping to launch their product in the coming months, initially in Northern Liberties and Fishtown, but that’s only if they can garner enough kickoff funding. They’re seeking just over $200,000 in a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, slated to go live next week.

Platt, a network engineer, and Gregory, a communications guy, met years ago while practicing martial arts at a studio in Northern Liberties. They’re both now New Jersey residents, but have that Philadelphia connection that makes them want to bring their product here first.

They’re banking on enough “growth partners,” or those willing to give at least $2,000 in the Kickstarter campaign. The growth partners will host access points in their businesses or properties, and in turn they won’t ever have to pay for Internet service again, Platt said. The growth partners will have to be in the Northern Liberties and Fishtown area to start out.

That’s good news for Alfano, who said Jarv.us is “definitely going to back it at the $2,000 level.”

“Two thousand dollars isn’t that much for what it could do for the neighborhood,” he said.

Other Kickstarter rewards for people in Northern Liberties and Fishtown:

• Pledge $30, receive one month of Bamboowifi service

• Pledge $60, receive three months of Bamboowifi service

• Pledge $150, receive one year of Bamboowifi service

Backers living outside of the Northern Liberties and Fishtown areas won’t feel the perks of the Kickstarter campaign’s rewards, but Platt and Gregory said they still hope to gain support.

“We’re counting on that culture of people who just want to see something change,” Platt said. “Something new and different.”

Alfano said he believes in the logistics of the company, but he is admittedly skeptical of the large amount of funding Bamboowifi is looking to raise.

“I could see it going either way,” he said. “It’s going to come down to if people are more hungry for another provider.”

Update: Bamboowifi has launched its Kickstarter campaign. If successful, the campaign will fund its first pilot zone in the 19123 and 19125 zip codes of Philadelphia. 

Image via Bamboowifi

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