More and more users are switching to digital services from using different OTT platforms to e-commerce, e-learning, news sites and many more. However, data availability, reliability and affordability has always been a problem. At the forefront of revolutionizing availability, affordability, and reliability of digital services, SugarBox is here to solve the last mile connectivity problem. Infused with 522 Cr investment by Zee and present in 9 cities, this tech start-up is here to empower the Next Billion users worldwide.
In an exclusive interview with MediaCatalyst, Mr. Rohit Paranjpe, CEO and Co-founder – SugarBox dwells on the journey of SugarBox, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, the company strategy and on how SugarBox is committed towards resolving the last mile connectivity problem in using digital services. Excerpts:
How did the journey of SugarBox start?
SugarBox started at the back of my experience running an OTT service and the problems that people faced with respect to data reliability and affordability. Telcos with discounted data plans specially Jio for a brief period, solved that problem. This global issue needed a fundamental solution – which would be economically viable & sustainable.
In 2016, we built a prototype, very similar to inflight entertainment service of Vistara aircraft and carried out a pilot at Goregaon station. The statistics were beyond imagination with people consuming 21 GB data per week and some users ran through all 200 movies on the platform within 15 days. This is when we knew we were onto something exciting and the next logical step was to approach a large content house to onboard with and launch this platform at scale.
Zee perceived opportunity & synergised with what we were doing and acquired SugarBox in April 2017. Post this, our focus was to make existing OTT platforms work using the platform, rather than creating a separate platform with a limited use case.
We realised that the bigger problem is with the last-mile delivery. The problems with the internet are that the last mile connectivity is – a) too expensive b) limited and c) not available to meet the demand of the consumers. Sugarbox was built to solve the last mile connectivity problem.
Congratulations on receiving the 522cr investment from Zee. How do you plan to utilize it?
We are extremely excited about this development. ZEE has been a pioneer in the field of entertainment in India and with their strong strategic focus on the digital space, our synergies matched perfectly. With this investment, SugarBox will commence commercial operations across exclusive long-term contracts like L&T Metro, Chennai Metro, NMMT, Kolkata Metro, Indian Railways and forge new partnerships to scale up its network. SugarBox is at the forefront of revolutionizing availability, affordability and reliability of digital services for the next billion users globally–something that even Big Tech has struggled to achieve sustainably. This investment will provide a giant leap towards us achieving that goal.
How has the pandemic affected your business and what has been your combating strategy?
Unfortunately, our entire network & services today is installed in public transport and public places. Due to the lockdown and these services/places being quarantined, our operations are at a standstill. However, since we haven’t commenced commercial services yet, economically, we were affected less adversely. It has caused a delay of three to six months in our rollout and scale-up plan, as well as the launch of commercial services. We are positive/hopeful for a good and assured future.
Does SugarBox aim to change the content on demand landscape? If yes, how?
At SugarBox, we are trying to create a solution for a mass basic need – affordable and reliable access to digital services. We are re-imagining the way data delivery on the internet works making it more available, reliable, affordable and contextual.
The short-term objective is to unlock over 2.5 bn hours of digital consumption/month for consumers in a near captive environment, where access is otherwise limited due patchy connectivity.
Transitionally, SugarBox will empower the Next Billion users worldwide to start using digital services in an affordable & reliable fashion, without having to purchase a data pack or an internet connection.
The long-term goal is to optimize the way data is transacted on the internet globally, making the internet over 30% cheaper and 200% faster.
How will the Sugarbox revolutionary product increase and transform the commute experience of its users?
SugarBox is a hyperlocal CDN exposed over a local Wi-Fi network that eliminates the users’ dependence on mobile data and provides them seamless access to Apps, without any usage limits or mobile data charges. This is done by setting up SugarBox Zones in stations across the city. Once commuters log in to this, they will be able to watch content through partner apps for free, without using mobile data. Passengers will be able to use OTT Apps, Games, News Sites and E-learning platforms, without any buffers or data cost.
People are already enjoying your services in Hyderabad and Mumbai. Which other cities are on your map?
We are offering our services in Hyderabad and Chennai metro, few hospitals in Mumbai, Bastis, Gram Panchayats, NMMT Buses etc. Indian Railway through its telecom subsidiary RailTel has selected us as the Digital Entertainment Service Provider (DESP) from Jan 2020, to provide services on trains and railway stations pan India. SugarBox Networks will equip trains pan with its patented technology, providing access to OTT, E-commerce, E-learning and more.
Today, we are present across pilot deployments in 9 cities. We are looking at expanding our network to Delhi, Kolkata and other cities in the next 2 years. Our im is to cover pan India Urban & Rural by the end of 2025.