Wibiki Strives for Wi-Fi Ubiquity

By Naomi Graychase

February 28, 2006

The vision: let everyone from home users to business travelers avoid the “toll booths” on their wireless Internet surfing.

Earlier this year, New York City-based Speedus Corp. began the public beta testing of its free Wi-Fi access service, Wibiki. Launched as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Speedus, Wibiki (pronounced “why-BIH-kee”) aims to make it easier, safer, and more affordable to share Wi-Fi access.


“We’re very excited about our vision for Wibiki,” says company CEO Shant Hovnanian. “Wi-Fi is a great place to be for our company, and we think there’s tremendous opportunity in free wireless, and leveraging what we think is a unique business model to help users take advantage of these services.”


While the specifics of that business model remain unannounced, Wibiki’s launch was greeted early on with some skepticism. On the day of its beta launch, one expert likened Wibiki’s approach to that of several failed ventures, and equated it with Fon.


Hovnanian thinks such criticisms are premature—and off base.


“I don’t think anyone can criticize a business model that hasn’t been launched yet,” he says. “We are so different from Fon. They are certainly out there putting toll booths on top of people’s routers, but that’s not what we’re doing. We’re safety, security, and 100 percent free. They have announced a certain component that says it’s free, but I don’t know if that’s a goal that can be achieved under their business model. In our case, it is.”


The plan for generating revenue at Wibiki is based on ad sales, which the company says will not include pop-ups or splash pages. By employing an "ad chooser" technology, Wibiki intends to offer advertising that has been tailored to suit the location and the interests of the users viewing it. According to Hovnanian, the Wibiki plan does not employ tracking technology, nor does it resemble any sales method currently in place.


“It’s an opt-in basis,” he says. “It’s about your choice as a user in seeing what advertising comes to you. There’s a number of different flavors of the advertising as it rolls out. It could be contextual, or on what you actually input in order to receive the stuff you want.”


Wibiki, which is shorthand for “Wi-Fi ubiquity,” has as its mission the rapid expansion of secure, free, broadband Wi-Fi access, and counts itself as part of the “Free Wi-Fi Movement.”


“The spectrum that’s used for Wi-Fi is an unlicensed spectrum,” says Hovnanian. “It’s free. I believe the intention of the FCC when they put it out there was that users could use it for free. There are a lot of people putting up toll booths trying to take advantage of that spectrum and creating small islands. We think there is a better way. It doesn’t mean that we won’t profit from it, but you as a user don’t have to spend dollars out of your pocket. It’s a tremendous goal that we have here at the company—creating a sense of community. Communities within a large community, or a large community itself is a goal.”


Wibiki’s product is not targeted at any specific demographic within the world of Wi-Fi users. The company believes that its product can benefit home, business, municipal and public hotspot users. Aside from the obvious perks of being free, Wibiki hopes to set itself apart by providing superior security solutions. 


“Because we’re enabling security functions inside of the router, the client-based security that we’ve developed makes you a lot safer being in the wireless mode,” says Hovnanian.


Since a vast majority of home access points remain open, Wibiki’s tactic is to secure those access points using its technology to enable the existing functions already inside most routers.


“We don’t flash routers on the router side,” explains Hovnanian. “We merely enable already available security features that the routers are shipped with. We don’t, therefore, conflict with any of the warranties that the manufacturers give with those routers. We’re not going in and changing the original manufacturer’s intended use of their product. We’re enabling already available functions inside of that box.”


If all goes according to plan, users will soon begin to download the Wibiki client to their routers and to their laptops (or desktops) in droves. Compatible with Macs and PCs, the laptop/desktop client seeks out Wibiki-configured routers to which it can securely connect. For home users with their own routers, that connection will be consistent and automatic. For those in other environments—travelers, those using public spots, or home users who want to share with their neighbors—the client will show all available networks, open and closed. If there’s a network with a Wibiki-configured router available, the client will want to put users on that one automatically.


“It’s about ease of use -- we’re a connection manager for you,” says Hovnanian. “The Wibiki client is a tool for all Wi-Fi users to help you find and connect to available Wi-Fi spots.”

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