The Stanford University PhD credited with commercializing a technology that became part of 4G and WiFi standards is tackling a new problem. Greg Raleigh, who played a key role in the development of MIMO technology, has shifted his attention to the back office. Raleigh, who is now CEO and chairman of four-year old startup ItsOn, talked to Telecompetitor yesterday about the dual-pronged approach that ItsOn is taking in the market.
As Raleigh explained, ItsOn offers a cloud service platform designed to give wireless carriers the ability to offer highly flexible service plans to their customers. In addition the company yesterday launched a 3G and 4G wireless service to consumers based on its cloud platform.
ItsOn made the decision that “the best way to move quickly and demonstrate what consumers want is to create a direct-to-the-consumer play,” commented Raleigh.
The consumer offering, dubbed Zact, supports a wide range of highly customized plans that other carriers also could offer by using the ItsOn cloud platform. Using their phones, customers can select the number of voice minutes, texts and the amount of mobile data they want and automatically see the price for that package. An international roaming service also can be purchased on the fly.
In addition, Zact offers a Facebook-only plan and a plan that includes only maps and navigation. Both cost five dollars a month.
Using the Zact service, consumers can adjust services in real time from their mobile devices. They can share service with as many Zact devices and customers as they want to. They can use parental controls to control which apps children can use when. And, according to Raleigh, customers never overpay.
If customers do not use the amount of minutes, texts or data they anticipated, he said, “we find the best service configuration you could have purchased and we credit you for the difference.”
ItsOn does not operate its own wireless network but instead resells Sprint’s network. However, ItsOn does have its own data center space to support its cloud infrastructure. In addition the company operates its own U.S.-based call center. Raleigh expects Zact support costs to be quite low, as customers will be able to answer many questions on their own by using Zact’s interactive capabilities.
Zact customers pay upfront for mobile devices which come with required software. Offerings currently include the LG Optimus Elite for $199 and the LG Viper 4G LTE for $399. ItsOn plans to add more models this summer.
The carrier market
Prior to launching Zact, ItsOn spent a year working with carriers in the U.S. and Europe, putting its technology through a series of trials. Raleigh said ItsOn is in discussions with several service providers about using its platform.
The ItsOn platform could be used to support Wi-Fi as well as cellular networks – and that could make the platform interesting to wireless network operators as they wrestle with how to monetize their investment in Wi-Fi offload infrastructure. The ItsOn platform could support options such as billing Wi-Fi data at a lower rate than cellular data or could enable a retail sponsor to cover Wi-Fi network costs for users in the vicinity of its retail locations, Raleigh said.
The launch of the ItsOn cloud platform is well timed, as wireless network operators are currently in the planning process for their WiFi offload networks.
When I asked Raleigh if he expected to make more money from Zact or from other network operators he didn’t have a definite answer.
“We’re super excited about the consumer offer and we’re confident it will be very profitable in the U.S.,” he said. In comparison, he said ItsOn makes a small fraction of that revenue on a per-subscriber basis from the cloud platform business.
Nevertheless, he said “ultimately we can get to a good percentage of the world with this technology,” which means that ultimately the carrier platform could be a large percentage of the company’s business.