Business Idea: Rent Your Wifi Connection

My DSL connection is a waste of money most of the time: I pay $19.99 a month plus the cost of the landline from AT&T. Most of the time, it's not being used at all. The maximum hours I have available to use it works out something like this:

Monday-Friday: 6pm-12am = 6 hours x 5 days = 30 hours
Saturday-Sunday: 8am-12am = 16 hours x 2 days = 32 hours

Out of the 62 hours I'm actually home to use it, I probably really only use it something like 10-12 hours a week.

And that's not looking at bandwidth at all. I mostly read news sites. I get around 120K down and 40K up. While I'm actively using it, I probably average 20K down and 5K up. Maybe. Considering it's idle most of the time.

Like most people, I have a wireless router. My laptop tells me that there are usually around 10 other wireless routers in range that are broadcasting SSIDs. There might be 12-15 total. And just like most people, my router is setup as a closed system. Without the WPA key, you don't get to use my DSL at all.

I have a few reasons I won't share my wifi:

  • Performance: I don't want my connection to be slow.
  • Fear: I don't want some fool to download Beyonce's newest and get me a nasty letter from the RIAA that I can't defend myself against.
  • Security: You have to have a key to have a secure connection.

    Really though it's pretty stupid for all 15 of us in range to be paying $19.99+ a month for broadband. We could probably all get by just fine with 5 connections. But I'm not about to walk up and down my neighborhood trying to work out some complex network sharing arrangement to save a few bucks a month.

    Today I've been looking at Skype Wifi phones. I came to the conclusion that the Netgear SPH101 for $149.99 - $50.00 mail in rebate from Amazon.com is a pretty good deal. For another $29.95 a year, you get unlimited calling inside the US and Canada. Hard to beat that. The downside is that outside of my home and office, it can be tough to find a wifi connection.

    If you want to pay, you can get t-mobile hotspot to go for $29.99 a month with a one year contract. Or with a voice plan, $19.99 a month. Course, it mostly only works in Starbucks and Borders. Some deal that is.

    What if I wanted to use my skype phone someplace else? It would be nice if there were more wireless connections available. Especially if they weren't that pricey.

    I had the idea that it would be pretty nifty to rent out the connections. It would work something like this:

    A new company handles the transactions and accounts. Wireless router makers (Cisco? Netgear? Etc?) installs software on their router to connect to the company website and use a company proxy. From the owner end, you set up an account with the company and set a price for wireless access. Users with Wifi devices see a list of available accounts and a price per minute. It can be competitive. Could look something like this:
    Joe's Broadband
    Signal Strength: 7/10
    Last speed test: Yesterday
    Upstream: 20K
    Downstream: 40k
    Cost per minute: $0.005

    Jan's Broadband
    Signal Strength: 6/10
    Last speed test: Today
    Upstream: 5K
    Downstream: 15k
    Cost per minute: $0.001

    Mary's Broadband
    Signal Strength: 3/10
    Last speed test: Today
    Upstream: 10K
    Downstream: 100K
    Cost per minute: $0.10
    The company is responsible for the following:
  • Setup of accounts (collection of money, etc)
  • Testing line speed to make sure its not being oversold
  • Proxy to record internet usage to protect the wifi provider
  • Public key encryption to keep your use private from the provider or anyone who is snooping

    In exchange, they take some portion of the money - say 30%.

    So say you login to Jan's broadband and use it for 5 hours. 5 x 60 x $0.001 = $0.30. Jan earns 70% of that, or $0.21. Jan has a highspeed connection, so she has 10 available slots (50K upstream, 150K downstream, plus extra for her own use). If all the slots are filled, she can make $0.42 an hour. Say she averages 65% of capacity for 6 hours a day, 30 days a month - she ends up getting paid = .65 x .042 x 6 x 30 = $4.91 for the month. Is it a lot? No. But maybe it brings her DSL expense down dramatically. If she were on the edge of a college or some other busy spot, maybe she ends up actually making a profit by raising her price!

    Following in Google's footsteps, the company would only send out a check when the account balance reaches $100. Also, the providers can use their credits to go out and use other people's wifi connection when they need to.

    In this manner, I think a real market would be rapidly created for dirt cheap wifi access and micro payments to the providers. With the ability to actually profit from a broadband connection, open wifi would become far more common, and the use of nifty wifi internet devices like the Skype VoIP phones would be far more common.

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