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How SugarBox is powering content & e-commerce without Net connectivity

SugarBox Networks has been reinventing the way mobile apps use the Internet to work, making them available, affordable and reliable to everyone. It is an open ecosystem which is unbiased to all Apps and strictly adheres to net neutrality norms. Integrating the SugarBox SDK with one’s App enables any user with a smartphone to use native Android and iOS Apps at a SugarBox zone – without internet connectivity, with a seamless app experience, no usage or access limit and zero data charges for usage for lifetime. 

In conversation with Adgully, Rohit Paranjpe, CEO, SugarBox Networks, explains how the product works, business and growth strategy, and more. 

Please tell us about the origins of SugarBox.
The company was launched in August 2016, at a time when companies like PressPlay and Fropcorn were already in existence. They had written an application, installed a BOX and the application would talk to this BOX. This technology is completely fragmented, exactly like the one you would find inside a Jet Airways flight, or across a few intercity buses and trains. When we entered the market, we decided to do something better and built our entire technology framework over the last two years. It is very complicated to actually execute it at the back end. Another thing that we realised was that the first version that we launched in March 2017 could only deliver content. The first ZEE5 App which we integrated into the system didn’t work. The App was able to deliver the content locally, but for everything else it was going back to the Internet. For the last year and a half we have been delivering everything from the box – from the APIs to user informations, subscription information, etc, which are cached either at the box or at the user device, so the App can work completely offline. When a consumer steps into the Sugar Box Zone, he/she can remove the SIM card from the phone and the App will still work. 

What is the USP of SugarBox?
The USP of this product is something that does not exist anywhere in the world – where a user is able to transact without being connected to the Internet. Nobody has ever attempted to do something like this. For any service today, the first call service makes to a connectivity check URL, which tells the app whether it has connectivity or not. The entire Internet is built on such dynamics – if I have connectivity, this app will function, if I don’t have connectivity it will not. With SugarBox, one can walk into the zone, download any supported App and use it without being dependent on connectivity.

What powers your business strategy?
Our business model is to first get the POIs (Place of Interest) in place and then we start laying the network. The efficiency depends on how many people we can reach and the time spent at each POI. Today, we have set up POIs across multiple segments – such as inside Metros, buses, suburban train networks, inside bastis and chawls as a deployment area, residential complexes, malls, hotels, cafes, hospitals, etc. All of these places have very different patterns in terms of what people consume, how much they consume, and what is it exactly that they want. There are multiple different patterns from a discovery standpoint. The biggest question is how do I tell the customer something like this is available. There are several initiatives that we have piloted over the last one and a half years. The largest deployment that we have is in Hyderabad, where the entire Metro network has been wired. 

The only App partner that we have today is ZEE5. But it is not just about entertainment, there are four or five major industries that we are targeting in the next six to eight months and creating independent use cases for all of them. In OTT, video is the heaviest content that we access and the problems with video are the worst. 

The next is education. One of the largest challenges of digital education or E-learning is that it has to be fully connected. We want to work with companies like Byju’s, and Education Initiatives in Bangalore to distribute e-learning solutions. 

Another sector is e-commerce. Tier 1 and 2 are maxed out and as people started going to Tier 3 and 4 markets, the biggest problem was mostly regarding creating awareness to make people shop on digital, after awareness was created, connectivity was an issue. SugarBox offers 2 or 3 kinds of very unique use cases to take E-Commerce to villages. This apart, one of the largest untapped opportunities for e-commerce is during flights. Currently, the shopping experience in flights is fragmented, where you order something when you are on the flight and pick up the product when you land at the airport. However, there are limited products on offer and the quality of products is a big concern. But from an Amazon or Flipkart point of view, the flier is the most ideal consumer in the most ideal setting. Moreover, retail therapy works for everybody. 

The fourth industry that nobody has really factored in is that we look at everything from the lens of data – close to about 4 per cent of all data consumption in the world happens on updating apps. The developers and the ecosystem want people to update Apps because that gives them the best experience. But from a user standpoint, it is very annoying. We at SugarBox are mulling over if we can create a scenario wherein you just get into a zone and when you leave the zone, everything on the phone is updated without you having to touch your phone – not just your Apps, more important things like system updates, security updates and so on. 

Finally, there is dispersing hyper local information to our consumers by making it available for the user on the right interface and at the right time, and also start enabling that with different partners for the user. Along with this, providing a hyper local gaming experience that is seamless and is accessible even during bad connectivity. 

How can brands leverage SugarBox?
Brands want more exposure, more eyeballs, more people visiting and more relevance. We have all of that in terms of all the leads. The best part is that we want to build an ecosystem, and we have an SDK that sits inside the App. SugarBox is not just helping the brand, it is helping every single App to help brands. For example, if the user is on Hyderabad Metro, SugarBox SDK is actually passing out Hyderabad and Metro to the partner, these partner Apps can then add these tags to fire on to every existing ad network. The same can be done when the user is in a mall or a café. SugarBox gives out attributable tags, which provides the app more intelligence in terms of the user’s location and what is the user context. This helps brands provide ads that would be relevant to the user. 

How are you creating awareness about SugarBox?
Using tickers in places like buses, Metros, etc., have been very effective. The second part is that since this is a major USP, our APP partners want to communicate to their users and advertise and talk about SugarBox. Moreover, a lot of internal communication and marketing campaigns are on the anvil. These apart, as you walk into the POI, the SDK sends a signal to the App and the user gets a notification. This can be customised based on the user profile.

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