Sabbir Hasan has been using Bonton, a Wi-Fi sharing platform, for about a month and a half. He had earlier come across an alluring advertisement of Bonton while scrolling through his Facebook newsfeed, which stated one could earn money by sharing their router using the app.
Hasan's intrigue got the better of him. After sharing his router, he instantly earned 4,000 points. He converted those 4,000 points to Tk. 40, which he cashed out using Bkash.
In his professional life, Hasan works for an internet service provider (ISP) in Khilgaon, which means he already has a readymade consumer pool interested in this concept, whom he started convincing to join.
"Receiving Tk40 against sharing the router seems like a good deal. Moreover, one can keep earning through this if other users use their connection. It is like a lifetime investment," said Hasan to his customers.
He convinced his customers to use this app and share their routers. In return, he took a percentage from their 4,000 points.
"My concept introduced them to this platform. Meanwhile, I earned a few extra bucks too," said Hasan.
Last June, Bonton launched its app for Android users. Since then, 25,000 people have downloaded it. With more than 15,000 active users, around 350 people are joining the crowd daily. Its primary users are usually retailers who frequently use other digital apps like Bkash, Nagad, ShopUp, Deligram, and others.
Bonton claims it has already covered Green Road, Mohammadpur, Mirpur, parts of Dhanmondi, and Old Dhaka. For two months, the curve has risen.
But how is it doing from the user's perspective? In Bangladesh, is it a viable model considering our internet speed and usual router range? Or is this an idea ahead of its time?
How is Bonton performing?
Though the Bonton team initially targeted Dhaka city, this app worked well in Cox's Bazar too. But unlike Hasan, the scenario is not as pleasant for Ismail Hossain, a shopkeeper from Cox's Bazar.
Before using Bonton, Hossain used to share five of his routers with friends, family and colleagues. He used to take the Wi-Fi bills from them in cash. But when he learned about Bonton from Facebook, he tried it and earned instant points, like others.
"Instantly, I earned a few takas. So, I convinced my acquaintances to join Bonton. Later, I realised that using this app is a hassle for my users as most of them do not understand technology well. Recharging points and inputting passwords became a problem for them," said Hossain.
"Also, with Bonton, they had to pay more than the usual price. As a result, two of my regular users left. I am incurring losses now."
The concept of recharging and using passwords appears to be difficult to tech-naïve residents of Cox's Bazar.
Furthermore, in Dhaka, Bonton's network is pretty unstable, The Business Standard found.
Rahat Rafi, a resident of Mirpur 01, learned about Bonton a few days ago. After it piqued his interest, he tried it several times to save on his data package in different places like Dhanmondi, Mirpur, and Mogbazar, but he failed to connect to their network.
He says Bonton is not a viable idea for Bangladesh.
"To make this idea work, we need strong routers and good internet connection everywhere. As a user, I can say most of us do not own it. When I can barely connect to my neighbour's Wi-Fi, how can I expect to be connected with someone else's while being on a moving vehicle? The day our connection is strong enough to connect the closest local tea store to my house, I believe this idea will work here," said Rafi.
Like Rafi, a few said that they could not find a connection around them, in Dhanmondi, Badda, Aftabtanagar, Rampura, and Gulshan.
What does Bonton have to say?
Samiha Tahsin, the founder of Bonton, explained the reasons behind these complaints.
"We are also facing this problem of not getting connected. It is because users are not inside the range," she said. However, they hope to gradually overcome this by increasing Wi-Fi density.
"Bonton is prioritising Wi-Fi density over strong networks because the more Wi-Fi connections available, the higher the chance of getting connected," Tahsin said.
She added that due to the pandemic, the launch of the Bonton app was postponed for more than six months, so the team had to resume the operation later.
Also, its most promising feature – the internet on the go – had to be put on hold as most people are spending time at home rather than outside. So, the idea of covering public places teaming up with ISPs has been dropped too. Instead, the team is working on increasing the number of hosts' routers, especially the SMEs.
"We had set a few routers close to Dhanmondi Lake but due to the pandemic we had to take those off as people were prohibited from visiting public areas," said Tahsin.
But Bonton is inspiring people to take more Wi-Fi connections and share the routers to resume the 'internet on the go' feature soon. Mostly, it is trying to ensure safe router sharing with unlimited internet at the lowest price.
They recently made some price changes to their plan. Previously, they charged Tk5 a day when a user stuck to one place. Now, the amount has been doubled.
"Bonton is a safe digital platform. Using it, hosts can control the users digitally and there will be no hassles like password thefts. The user who pays, gets connected. It is simple but people need time to get used to this," said Tahsin.
Bonton's future plan to make it more viable
In future, Bonton plans to cover rural areas of Bangladesh. Then it will build its infrastructure, setting up routers with ISPs, the Bonton team shared.
Last year, it received $100,000, and now it is raising another round of funding. It wants to work hand in hand with ISPs and telecommunications companies to expand its radius.
Bonton does not consider themselves a competitor of telecom operators as both are working to make the internet available for users, Tahsin believes.
Instead, Bonton would like to work with telecom operators through Wi-Fi offloading, if possible.
"Wi-Fi offloading would be beneficial both for us and the tele operators. The Internet will be connected in no time, and the user will not be able to tell the difference because there will be no interruption. This way, the internet will be more affordable and available to everyone. Actually, that is why internet is so cheap in India," said Tahsin