The sharing economy is really an exciting new development that can and will continue to take on many new forms as innovation continues to broaden our horizons and break down the barriers that once stood in the way of the world becoming more like one big family.
Of course, some companies (like rental companies) have been in the sharing economy business for a long time (without being called that) and are now being updated with new models (and sometimes new players) that leverage the power of technology and social networking.
Others, have been around for just a few years, and didn’t really realize that they were part of this new movement until they read about it.
RovAir is just such a company. As all sharing economy companies do, they specialize in making valuable, under-utilized assets or services available to a large number of people who have an occasional need. In their case, the service they are providing access to is mobile broadband.
It started, back in 2008, when their founder, Tom Dolan was going on vacation for a couple of weeks and needed mobile broadband access. He purchased a two-year contract for a plug in data card, but found that after the vacation was over, he never needed the card again. That prompted him to investigate data card rentals. He soon learned that this was not something that was generally available, though there was clearly a need.
He started RovAir which targeted business travelers that occasionally needed mobile connectivity. Having been in the hotel business, he was quite familiar with this demographic.
But, they didn’t stop there. Given that moving equipment is not always that convenient, they figured out a way to perform “coordinated equipment swaps” which basically allowed multiple people to share a single access line, using their own equipment, with the caveat that only one person can be on it at a time.
Does that work?
According to Tim O’Connor, RovAir’s Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, their analytics show an average of 10 people per line. That means each user gets it for roughly three days out of each month. That’s great if that’s when he happens to be traveling, but what if it isn’t?
That is the point of RovAir’s new technology development. Until now, they had only been able to slice up the service on a per day basis, with 24-hour advanced notice required, because the transaction required manual intervention. They are just about ready to bring to market the technology that will automate the process and allow time slices on that order of minutes rather than days, and with instant on-demand access.
According to O’Connor, “We have developed a system that automatically determines what lines are available and how much data is being used on that line and can we assign it to any particular person. We are testing this today with a major carrier, but the details of that are confidential. In the past, we had a somewhat manual process, where certain information had to be entered into a computer to transfer the line. Now we have automated that process and we are now using Indiegogo to raise funds to help us accelerate that development and get it out on the market.”
He went on to note that, “What’s interesting and maybe a little ironic as that people are often willing to pay more (per minute) for a shorter time, we call them microbytes. Say, for example, they might be happy to pay a dollar or two to send off an important email even if that only takes a couple of minutes.”
You could end up with quite a few such transactions in the course of an hour.
I found myself thinking of SETI, back in the 80s when lots of us would offer access to our computers’ processing power to assist in the search for intelligent life in the universe.
But given the increasing prevalence of wi-fi and the data capabilities of smartphones, many of which can now be configured as hot spots, I wonder if the window of opportunity might be short-lived.
But then, there could still be tremendous opportunities for this type of service in the developing world. I asked O’Connor what he thought about that.
“We actually think that is our biggest opportunity, in developing countries. When you consider offering these microbytes of access, there’s a huge, huge market for that, especially when you think about people who have never had it before. For example, they would be perfectly happy with 3G technology right now, when compared to having no access at all. We would love to move forward there, but we are small and would need certain things to be in place before we could do that.”
Perhaps what they need are the right partners.
“There is also tons of used equipment out there right now that is fully functional, that is gathering dust, because it’s not the latest and greatest, but could mean an awful lot to people in these other countries, who have no access at all.”
Sounds like a great opportunity to me. Anyone interested in learning more contact them on Twitter @Rovair.
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.