Monday, November 07, 2005

Tulsa MetroNet Wireless: DOA or Innovate?

Recently, we described Tulsa MetroNet Wireless as an obsolete service even before migrating out of beta. After several discussions among the staff, we decided to revisit the issue and offer a better solution to make a wi-fi cloud over Tulsa a profitable business and possibly save the business from extinction.

First, let's take a look at the business of Tulsa's wi-fi. There are many choices for free wi-fi hotspots in the Tulsa area. They are not difficult to set up for the location owners. Most are fairly easy to log on. They are conveniently located, unless you live in North Tulsa.

There are also a number of subscription hot-spots, such as Starbucks and T-Mobile located in the Fedex-Kinko locations. If you live like a hermit and work on the Internet, there's really no need to leave your house. SBC recently offered DSL for less than $15 per month.

So, the price of basic broadband access has effectively come down to zero. It would be possible for an enterprising homeless person to run an online business, without paying for access or for a computer either. Just log on free at the library or at the Subway at OSU-Tulsa, which doesn't even have a time limit for usage.

Enter Tulsa MetroNet Wireless. In Phase I, you can log on anywhere from Downtown out to approximately 21st and Harvard. If you can resolve their homepage, you can log on with a monthly subscription of $25 per month, or pay as you go.

We asked ourselves, "Why would we do that, if we can just pop into a Panera or OSU-Tulsa, and log on for free?" Possibly, if we were buying a car, within their coverage area, we could log on, use the online info to haggle with the car dealer. But, most people would have already done their homework before getting on the car lot.

How could Tulsa MetroNet Wireless work better? Let's try an ad-based, free subscription model. Instead of asking for your credit card on the splash page, TMN could offer up location-based advertising.

Something like this, "Oh we noticed you are logging on near Joe's Lube and Oil. They are offering $5 off on their oil change for new customers. When was the last time you changed the oil on your car?"

In fact, Google recently offered a free access wi-fi cloud to San Francisco. Pretty kewl. Imagine the possibilities for new advertising opportunities.

To be sure, Tulsa metro area is saturated with broadband access, both free and low fee options. But, there are a number of broadband boonies surrounding Tulsa.

For example, Bixby is a fast growing area with the broadband boonies syndrome. The ILEC, Bixby Telephone, charges almost $40 per month for basic DSL. No doubt they are eager to protect that cash cow with a fast growing population. It is riped for more spirited competition offered by Cox Cable. The killer app is WiMax.

WiMax allows a much wider coverage, conservative range up to 40 km, line of sight, than the average wi-fi hotspot, 300 feet. Where Tulsa MetroNet Wireless could effectively become the big dog, the ILEC, are the broadband boonies. Believe or not, most of Oklahoma, outside of Tulsa and Oklahoma City, is in the broadband boonies. Even without WiMax, places like Cookson on Grand Lake would love to have wireless broadband at whatever price.

But, in Tulsa, Tulsa MetroNet Wireless is DOA, with its current business model.

Reaction from Tulsa MetroNet Wireless:

Saw your blog about Tulsa MetroNet. Flattered you 1. Took the time to write about us and 2. Even know about marketing-based WiFi and WiMax technology. Tulsa MetroNet is only in Beta (Phase1a) and right now we're really just about figuring out wireless network design for Tulsa, demographics, price point(s), etc. We have every intention of offering "Free" WiFi in some areas (marketing-based), and we are definately going to re-brand MetroNet for Tulsa suburbs as soon as possible, meaning there will be a "Bixby MetroNet" and an "Owasso MetroNet" (and so on) as soon as financially possible.
The response to MetroNet has been overwhelming, both from a residential and business perspective. We have many students using our service, many who visit Tulsa for a day/week/month... We provide a service not previously available to those in mobile homes and trailers for fair ground events for gun/horse/car shows and situations like that. You may also notice that services like WiFi phones and VoIP over WiFi are coming out (Nokia has a hybrid cell/WiFi phone)... and music and movie rental on demand via WiFi are just on the horizon as provider services, never mind stuff like iTunes, etc.
Anyway... I realize you were just blogging and giving your two cents, but WiFi, WiMax, and wireless are all in a general state of flux right now and MetroNet is here to stay, no matter how the technology shakes out. Heck, we may even be bought by Google someday and offered for free to Tulsa as a whole... we're ready for anything, as long as it's wireless.

Trevor Langham
CEO, Tulsa MetroNet