The idea to found AirFi took shape when two cousins—Ranjith Reddy and Sathish Reddy—embarked on a bus trip from Hyderabad to Chennai in 2015. When they faced Internet issues during the journey, the budding entrepreneurs realised that a critical gap exists in the market to provide seamless Internet connectivity to travelers on the move. They observed that the transportation industry had been slow to adapt to digitisation in this regard and had failed to upgrade their technologies to provide convenience to passengers.
“We identified this major pain point in the industry and believed if there is Internet in all static places, then why not provide it in moving buses, cabs and other modes of transportation as well?” says Ranjith.
The name AirFi was chosen for the startup as the co-founders sought to capitalise on the term “Wi-Fi”, or wireless fidelity. They aspired to create a vast network for their business idea since “air is there everywhere and therefore ‘AirFi’”.
AirFi’s product has multiple uses and was built in-house by the co-founders who have an engineering background. They customised the hardware by assembling multiple parts.
AirFi provides a hardware Wi-Fi device for every vehicle for a one-time upfront cost. Additionally, customers have to pay monthly subscription charges towards the maintenance, Internet and software upkeep. The startup has partnered with Jio and Airtel and leverages a concept called dual SIM model that enables seamless Internet connectivity for commuting passengers.
The technology is leveraged for the below use cases:
- Hotspot systems that offer fast and seamless Internet connectivity on the go. For example, the service is offered in smart cities where free Wi-Fi connectivity is available in city bus stops.
- AirFi Offline Entertainment enables users to access premium videos on their personal devices by connecting to AirFi’s network. The startup provides 64GB curated multilingual entertainment that is stored on its Wi-Fi device.
- Passenger announcement system is available in bus depots across smart cities in the States where AirFi operates.
- CCTV camera is placed in each bus to provide security to customers.
Core target market and customers
AirFi’s core target market is smart cities and the private transportation sector that primarily includes buses and cabs. “There are over 25,000 private buses and 1,50,000 buses in pan India Road Transport Corporations (RTCs) that we are trying to tap into,” says Sathish. “We are looking at conventional modes of transportation and will expand into the airline and train markets in the long run.”
AirFi has a strong presence in smart cities and is active in various states, including Maharatshtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The startup has onboarded more than 1200 bus operators across these states and is seeking to expand into Delhi NCR, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in the near future.
In a significant business move, AirFi has partnered with redBus, an online bus ticketing service and a subsidiary of MakeMyTrip. redBus is AirFi’s paying customer and has partnered with Bitla Soft, a leading travel focused technology provider that leverages SaaS, cloud and mobile-based solutions in various travel segments.
The startup has launched a unique proposition for the convenience of Hyderabad-based passengers called ‘rZone’. The new initiative is a ‘high-tech’ point of boarding for travelers. It acts as a digital hub for route management and seamlessly connects travelers with buses through the Internet, eliminating all forms of anxieties associated with locating the boarding and arrival points of the bus. Further, ‘rZone’ provides people with free Wi-Fi connectivity through AirFi to ensure a hassle-free travel experience for passengers.
Funding and customer acquisition:
Ranjith shares that the startup is bootstrapped and he might seek funding in the next six months. The company acquired its initial customers by offering them a free product trial for six months, similar to Jio’s customer acquisition strategy. This led to the successful onboarding of other prospective customers for AirFi.
Challenges along the way
AirFi faced various challenges in the initial days of its inception since transportation is a highly unorganized sector in India. The company’s subsequent partnership with redBus and Bitla Soft has streamlined its processes, enabling AirFi to function smoothly.
According to Sathish, the business came to a sudden halt when the pandemic struck. However, the silver lining was that AirFi’s customers resumed using its services once lockdown restrictions were lifted. “Our customers understand the value we bring to their business and have supported us even amid these challenging times,” he says. “Our statistics show an upward trend despite the lockdown and pandemic restrictions, as our clients have remained faithful to us. We are eagerly looking forward to more associations with them.”
He expects business to proceed smoothly despite the surge in Omicron cases. “We are contractually protected as our contract stipulates that at least 50 percent of our services fee should be paid to us, regardless of whether the services were consumed or not. We are better prepared for a potential third wave of the pandemic,” says Sathish.
The T-Hub connection
AirFi enrolled in the second cohort of T-Hub’s flagship Lab32 program in 2019. “At the time, we wanted to scale the company and receive mentoring from T-Hub’s industry experts,” says Ranjith. “It turned out to be a hugely beneficial experience and we had access to finance and technology mentors, legal advisors and investors. Crucially, there were ample networking opportunities and government support as well.”
AirFi was also able to onboard customers by leveraging their connections through T-Hub’s vast network. “Ever since Lab32, we have received various opportunities to showcase our innovations and connect with distinguished industry leaders, investors, partners and corporates, not to mention some top-notch mentorship,” adds Ranjith.
The way forward
According to the co-founders, the company’s mission is to continue scaling in the Indian market and gradually build a robust pan India presence. “Expansion – Efficiency – Endurance: that’s our motto. No matter what the situation is, we plan to expand!” says Sathish. However, AirFi is also looking at overseas markets as a part of its future growth strategy.
Ranjith believes the massive upsurge in internet consumption amid the pandemic would only bolster the business from hereon.
“The need of the day is high Internet connectivity and better speed. Cost-effective and fast ‘Internet on the move’ is our mantra. We position ourselves based on the needs of the customer and the current world situation. This is what keeps our midnight oil burning and we get an adrenaline rush when we succeed in such situations. You are never alone with Wi-Fi on the go!” he signs off.
|Revenue (FY 2021-2022)
|₹ 70 L (approx.)
|Projected turnover for next 3 years
|₹ 15 Cr (approx.)
112 Clients across 5 cities
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