We talked to Rohit Paranjpe of SugarBox on how to make the Internet more scalable, affordable and reliable with free and fast local bandwidthand this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Rohit Paranjpe: Thank you for asking. We are doing fine so far. We chose not to be dictated by fear, and try to live our lives as usual, with the necessary precautions. It’s been a very tough year for all of us. However, this pandemic did give us time for more family bonding.
Tell us about SugarBox, what does it do and how does it work?
Rohit Paranjpe: The Internet has become part and parcel of our lives in the 21st century. Most tasks that are performed on any device nowadays require internet connectivity. We have grown so dependent that we can’t think of a life without the internet. For instance, the recent Google server outage across the world wherein just a matter of minutes there was widespread panic as people realized they couldn’t access their emails or watch videos or even log into video calls.
Twenty-four years after the internet launch in India, connectivity both in terms of reach and quality remains a huge issue, thanks to infrastructure constraints and pricing, making it inaccessible to everyone. Even as the number of internet users has been multiplying, there is still a large population with no access to the internet – particularly in India’s rural areas, lower states, and poorer households. So, every problem that you face with the internet SugarBox can potentially solve. We want to fix the connectivity problem with “reliable and affordable service”.
The value proposition at SugarBox is to solve an issue that has transformed into a fundamental need for everyone – affordable and reliable access to digital services. It is a technology reimagining the way data delivery on the internet works, making internet services more available, reliable, affordable, and contextual.
SugarBox is the only network in the world that lets you access your favorite Apps seamlessly without you having to depend on your mobile data or ISP. It sets up a hyperlocal CDN data delivery & discovery network at key places of interest (POIs) frequented by consumers. CDN is a network of servers linked together to deliver content as quickly, cheaply, reliably, and securely as possible. SugarBox is a hyperlocal CDN – by being hyperlocal, it does more than what the traditional CDN does. Because of the hyper localness and technology, there are more cases that they can serve. This hyperlocal CDN disrupts the economics of the internet infrastructure challenges by shifting a chunk of data consumption from expensive internet bandwidth to free local bandwidth. SugarBox aims to change the revenue model that enables internet infrastructure providers to start earning via user consumption without paying for it.
Key business focus areas for SugarBox?
The core aim is to decrease the data accessed over the internet, thereby freeing up bandwidth on the existing last-mile networks (Telecom and ISP) so that the internet starts working more reliably and efficiently for all.
It is achievable by setting up a SugarBox at every place where a critical mass of people accesses apps across categories (Entertainment, social media, communication, education, fitness, information discovery, e-commerce, etc.) It includes all modes of transport, smart cities, residential complexes, corporate parks, rural areas, educational institutes, retail shops, hotels, food & beverage outlets, etc. Finally, the essential business focus is to partner with apps that consume most data /internet bandwidth.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Rohit Paranjpe: It has not impacted us that much yet. But yes, the overall business has led to a significant drop in economic activity in India. We are hoping and praying that we recover from this global crisis rapidly. Some of the projects we have in the pipeline are late by months, but things are slowly coming back on track.
Our team’s main change was that our team all switched to remote working – that wasn’t a choice, of course, but something that just had to happen. At SugarBox, we immediately prepared ourselves to work from home when we observed the alarming rise in India’s number of COVID-19 cases. HR had circulated the precautionary measures document with all the employees. We already had an internal communication system that is a combination of Flock + a VPN used by all employees. Its uses are to share documents, calendars, and calendar access of all members so that meeting scheduling can be quick. Remote working is a way of life for us as we use virtual calls to connect with partners across the country. It helps us save on time and in turn, increased our productivity. For all external calls/meetings, we choose between bridge numbers, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. We have outlined clear guidelines for communications so that day-to-day work is undisrupted.
Given that most of our employees frequently travel on work, we need to use technology to stay connected. Due to this, we also encouraged employees travelling in from affected cities to go into self-quarantine to safeguard themselves. We are an organization where people are our greatest asset, and employee health and well-being will always remain at the forefront. Employee safety has always been our key priority while considering that the work does not get affected. We want to keep in constant touch with our employees and bring up a sense of reservation prevalent during this unfortunate business disruption.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Rohit Paranjpe: Internet is a very complex ecosystem and therefore, it’s a very complex problem to solve. Being the first to develop such a solution, the organization ran into many challenges like technologies not existing, OEM and operating system creating challenges, hardware failures, external factors like devices and operating systems, and many more.
We had to make choices about the work we continued, what we stopped, and how we could still cover-up for the time lost and make sure that we are supporting our customers, getting new business, and moving forward. As a team, we are learning and evolving as we go. As a startup, you do all the time, but the pandemic magnified these challenges and the decisions we needed to take.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Rohit Paranjpe: A good support network of my colleagues, friends, and family always helps me to ease my work troubles and help me in seeing things differently. They don’t let me get down or stay negative for too long! Being at home reminds me that there is life outside work and other people need me too. It’s all about balance. Exercising is something that I like to do, it doesn’t make my stress disappear, but it reduces some of the emotional intensity, helps clear my thoughts, and let me deal with the problems more calmly.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Rohit Paranjpe: As far as we are concerned, no one does what we do, anywhere in the world. There have been (and some still exist today) (Pressplay, Fropcorn, Goldseat, Magicbox, Vootgo, etc.). However, they were all built as a disjointed platform and ended up having a limited use-case. So, as of now, the answer to this question is still – no direct competitor!
However, providing a platform for access to apps means that we indirectly compete with the existing platforms (Telcos, ISPs, CDNs, etc.)
Your final thoughts?
Rohit Paranjpe: At SugarBox, we always look for opportunities and ways to be even more relevant to people. It’s all about moving forward. There are four key growth pillars for SugarBox in the next 2 to 3 years:
1. Scale up the Public transport outreach in India – This includes full-scale implementation in Indian Railways and deployment across other critical Metro networks and bus networks in the country. This growth bucket also includes a foray into Avionics to disrupt the In-flight connectivity industry as a whole.
2. Scale up the Rural & Urban Public Wi-Fi outreach in India. It includes exponentially scaling up our rural and village level pilots in partnership with other Internet infrastructure and Internet service providers and paving the way for sustainable Public Wi-Fi deployments in Urban and semi-Urban.
3. SugarBox at Home, Office & other B2B POIs. It includes a B2B and a B2C foray to improve the state of the internet in India, making home and enterprise networks twice as fast and significantly improving its affordability and reliability.
4. International expansion – SugarBox is actively working on replicating the model globally, with a two-prong strategy. The company will enter a few critical markets directly by setting up international operations and forging partnerships with local players for faster penetration across other international geographies.