Finding Money in the Basement

Oxford Development is a big player
in real estate in the state of Pennsylvania and in Pittsburgh,” explains
Pittsburgh-based Telerama CEO and founder Doug Luce. “It was a
real coup to have them approach us and ask us to bring Wi-Fi into One Oxford
Center.”

Luce says that Oxford had heard of Telerama because of “the cultural district
project.” Telerama put Wi-Fi into a 14 block area of downtown Pittsburgh (see
company press release here) for ONE UNWIRED DAY,
September 25, 2003. The district includes a concert hall, restaurant, and other
important buildings.

“Oxford had spoken to a few people and they seemed to like us.”

That’s how Telerama got involved in bringing Wi-Fi into a 45 storey one
million square foot office building. So far, Telerama has connected the lobby
and the basement’s food court.

Luce is optimistic about the potential of the building. “There are many
businesses in the building, from small businesses to multifloor law firms. 2,000
people work in it and another 1,000 visit it every day.”

He wants the building to work because he believes that people in the real
estate business are wrongly skeptical of Wi-Fi. One company he spoke with said
they’d installed fiber optic equipment in the building and then tenants came in
and either did not care about bandwidth at all or did not use the fiber optic
that was provided. “Tenants usually hire someone to put something in and manage
it,” Luce says.

Telerama shares Wi-Fi revenue with the property management. In this case,
Telerama shares a relatively generous 33 percent of revenue. “They also get free
DSL, and we offer everything we can do as an ISP to management including
webhosting, dialup, e-mail, and discounts on home DSL too.” (Oxford did not take
the home accounts.)

Oxford paid an installation fee, and Telerama provides marketing and help
desk support. Telerama monitors channel use, looking for misconfigured laptops,
and can help end users reconfigure their computer if there are problems.
Telerama handles subscriptions and signup.

One key to getting a real estate account, Luce says, is demonstrating an
ability to stick to the budget. Telerama uses open source software and older
computer equipment to build relatively cheap hotspots (see No, it Costs $50
to Build a Hotspot
).

Telerama has survived since 1991 through a simple philosophy. Asked about
ROI, he responds eloquently. “To figure out ROI for anything, you need to know
what your income’s going to be,” explains Luce. “I’m in this because I know I
can do it on a shoestring budget. I can invest little money and provide good or
better service than the companies that run $100,000 per site. The ROI’s not
certain, but I have faith, and that’s what this is all about. In the early days
of the Internet, who knew anyone was going to use it? It took some faith it
would get to be the way it is today, with grandma online sending photos.”

Reprinted from ISP Planet.

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