Getting people in developing countries connected with the rest of the world involves more than just providing infrastructure — it’s about making sure that those users understand what they can do with the data. It’s estimated that there are nearly 4.9 billion people in the world today living without mobile Internet connectivity. LotusFlare is hoping its solution will help empower users to control their data usage and create a better overall mobile experience.
To help accelerate its mission, LotusFlare has taken on $6 million in new funding in a round led by the Social+Capital Partnership. Google Ventures, Metamophic Ventures, and others previously signed on to fund its seed round..
Started by three former Facebook employees, LotusFlare leverages existing infrastructure and technologies to generate data signals for carriers to help bring more people online. Company chief executive Sam Gadodia told VentureBeat that there are two classes of people who aren’t online: those who have access to cell signal and coverage, but can’t get on the Internet because of the user experience, and those who just can’t afford it.
If it seems that LotusFlare is solving multiple problems, you’re slightly correct. The underlying issue being addressed is how to create a better mobile user experience, both for the carrier and also the user. However, this entails other problems the company is tackling, namely how to help carriers reach these users and how to educate users on making the most out of their data plans without paying for overages.
Gadodia said that people have a hard time quantifying what they’re buying with a data plan — just what limitations are there with 100MB? They may not know how much data is being consumed in the background or what’s being spent to go on Facebook, Twitter, or simply to download an email.
LotusFlare has provided an app for users that enables them to select specific apps they want to use and to ensure only data is used for those programs. Users can buy the apps for a specific period of time.
In the future, Gadodia said that his company hopes to make it possible for people to share their data packs with their families — something that seems very difficult in developing countries.
Traditionally, customers have had to wait on carriers to add infrastructure, which takes time and can be very costly.
LotusFlare says it wants to work with all of these companies by providing the software layer that rests on top of those technologies to help bring more people online.
“I don’t think a single company or individual can solve the problem,” said Gadodia. “We believe that we are complementing what other initiatives are doing. For us, we are always open to partnering with anyone to help achieve our mission.”
LotusFlare is already doing trials in places like the Philippines, Belgium, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Latin America. It has teamed with carriers to work on new applications to reach underserved areas.
The company makes no money off users buying data through their app — that money gets sent to the carriers directly. Instead, LotusFlare makes money by licensing its technology to the carriers. Gadodia said this is an appealing option for his company because carriers can deploy a network at a much faster and cheaper rate. The specific licensing fee varies by country.
With the additional $6 million in funding, LotusFlare is adding Social+Capital Partnership’s founding partner Chamath Palihapitiya to its board as chairman. To date, it has raised $10 million in funding. “Internet access is quickly becoming a basic human right,” said Palihapitiya. “The question isn’t why but how. LotusFlare represents the next generation of wireless products and services who can bring this to massive populations around the world at increased capability and lower cost.”