SmartWires Yearns to Grow

Daniel Ghansah says he’s about to explode.

Or at least his small Wi-Fi company, Webgineering LLC of Miami Fla., aka SmartWires, is about to explode. But Ghansah is SmartWires and SmartWires is him; he’s the only employee, though he hopes that is about to change.

In the meantime, Ghansah is the poster boy for single-handed entrepreneurial chutzpah.

As a one-man gad-about, funded with $700,000 in angel financing, he has turned the firm he originally started as a Web development house in 2001 into a very interesting WISP.

Despite limited resources, Ghansah has achieved an impressive amount during two years of flyingas he likes to put itin “stealth mode.”

He came out of stealth mode only recently with the announcement of a Wi-Fi hotzone at a private yacht club in Key Biscayne Fla. He’s not allowed to name the club.

The deal, however, is a sweetheart. He figures he needs to sign up just 15 subscribers to make a profit.

Before the yacht club, Ghansah sold and implemented two hotel Wi-Fi deals, a profitable multi-dwelling unit (MDU) WISP service, a hotzone at Miami’s trendy Coco Walk, and a disastrous hotspot installation at a Pak Mail outlet that provided most of its value in lessons learned the hard way.

Not bad for a one-man company (with a contract marketing director from The LMJ Group International of Miami and other contract help when needed).

So much depends on the money

“I’ve done lot of homework in the last couple of years,” he says. “And that is very important for anyone looking to get into this business. Hotspots are cool and it’s easy to get into it, but it takes a lot of learning to get it right.”

Now that he figures he’s got it right, he wants to raise additional funding and start putting that learning to work.

SmartWires has one additional MDU ready to install and a list of a dozen or so more, all in Florida, where he believes he can replicate his first successful implementation. If he gets the funding.

Ghansah has been lucky enough to be able to do his learning on the job, experimenting with technology approaches and business models in a handful of projects.

For example, when he started, he worked with NetNearU, a turnkey hotspot solution provider, to establish his first modest WISP site at the 12-room Gigi’s Resort in Fort Lauderdale Fla.

Ghansah covered the upfront investment in the Wi-Fi infrastructure himself and took all the revenue, except NetNearU’s cut.

By the time he came to do his second hotel, the 240-room Hope Hotel & Conference Center on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton Ohio, he had learned some lessons.

“That’s why at Hope they’re paying for everything and that will be our model going forward,” Ghansah says. “They pay a setup fee, plus a monthly recurring fee. At Hope there’s no revenue.” The hotel gives service away as an amenity.

He also jettisoned NetNearU in favor of indoor/outdoor Wi-Fi infrastructure from SmartBridges LLC and security and WLAN management solutions from strategic partner Lok Technology (LokTek).

Ghansah helped develop the LokTek AirLok, a network edge device that competes with similar products from ReefEdge and others. It was a key part of the installation at the Key Biscayne yacht club.

My sweetheart is next to the ocean

Although the Internet link at the yacht club is only 384 Kbps, it feels like a T-1 most of the time, Ghansah says, because of the AirLok’s cache features. “The very first time somebody goes to a page, that’s when it’s slowest. After that it’s almost instantaneous.”

The AirLok uses lulls in network traffic to systematically refresh pages in the cache.

It took six access points to provide coverage of the entire yacht club property. The club has three slips accommodating 100 boats.

The installation included a bridge from one slip to another to work around obstructions, and one access point inside the clubhouse. The rest are outside and provide coverage for visitors and members on their yachts, including the four live-aboards who are the service’s charter subscribers.

A key to the success of the project was that coverage be comprehensive enough that even the lowest-powered consumer-grade Wi-Fi cards would give subscribers a good signal anywhere on the property, Ghansah says. That way he doesn’t have worry about selling cards — subscribers can go down to the nearest Circuit City — or handling service issues.

The Wi-Fi network not only covers the club property, it also covers a nearby condo development and homes, where SmartWires hopes to sell subscriptions.

And it extends well out on to the water — not surprising given a dead flat topology with no obstructions. One user has already reported a good connection a half mile out. Ghansah figures it will work up to three miles away.

The yacht club deal was unusual. Ghansah approached club management, which was already interested in his proposal because members had been asking for Wi-Fi access but it couldn’t afford the investment in infrastructure.

Ghansah, having learned his lesson about sinking too much of his own scarce capital in projects, might have walked away. But a club member, who remains anonymous, agreed to fund the entire project. He’s really an angel investor, Ghansah says.

The way the deal was structured, Ghansah retains control of the equipment. He’s responsible for management, maintenance, and marketing, and gets most of the revenue. The member paid $6,000 for the infrastructure, covers the cost of the Internet connection, and gets a cut of revenues.

As we say, a sweetheart deal.

Not that Ghansah is looking for a lot more trade from the marina industry. “I think yacht clubs and marinas are a hard sell,” he says. “We intend to focus on multi-tenant units and hotels.”

SmartWires’ one MDU deal is structured more along the lines of the first hotelwith Ghansah making the investment in infrastructure. But it’s successful for all that, and it’s probably the way future MDU projects will work too.

“Most builders say they don’t want to be involved,” he says. “And if they do want to be involved, they’d have to pay a set-up fee, plus a monthly fee per user.”

The first MDU owner, who was in the process of building when Ghansah sold him on the concept, definitely didn’t want to be involved.

SmartWires made the investment in infrastructure. It was minimal, though, given that Ghansah was able to cover the 180-unit building with two SmartBridges devices mounted outside, one on either side, shooting back into the building.

The MDU service, which has been up and running for almost two years, turns a tidy profit. The initial investment was $3,275, bandwidth costs $600 a monthand SmartWires currently has 40 subscribers paying $39.99 a month.

It’s also very low maintenance. Ghansah gets few calls from subscribers about service problems. And many new subscribers come in without him having to lift a finger. They sign uphotspot-styleat a log-in page using a credit card.

It helps that the building is heavily populated by Web-savvy students from the nearby university. Ghansah had tenants calling to request connectivity before the MDU owner had even signed off on the deal.

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of success is the Pak Mail installation, a very early homework assignment. It’s a more conventional hotspot at a store-front mail services outlet where Ghansah used NetNearU equipment.

“I got very excited and said, ‘Here, have the equipment, and we’ll pay for the bandwidth too,'” he recalls. “To date it has generated exactly $2 in revenue. But it was a good learning experience. It taught us to avoid those kinds of hotspots in future.”

The Coco Walk hotzone, in a downtown Miami tourist and shopping enclave, sounds like more of a public relations gambit. Ghansah admits he isn’t sure he’ll make a killing on it, but it is high profile.

He paid for the infrastructure and is selling prepaid cards to the property owner, who distributes them to retailers will sell on commission to customers. To round out his portfolio, Ghansah is now consulting to WISPs in the developing worldan acknowledgement of his own African roots. He has one project in Puerto Rico, one in west Africa. He will design the networks and then fly in to help install them.

Has anybody got some money for this guy? He’s about to explode!

Reprinted from ISP-Planet.

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