Perhaps Chinese startup WiWide is not familiar to you as an individual, but chances are that you’ve already enjoyed their services if you have used free WiFi in public locations like theaters, restaurants, coffee bars, or airports. The once low-profile company has been making headlines in local media as more Chinese tech giants approach O2O expansion through WiFi hotspot solutions.
Last month, WiWide was listed as a major third-party service provider for WeChat’s public account WiFi connection program. Jerry Zhang, WiWide CEO and founder, disclosed in an exclusive interview with TechNode that WiWide has worked with Tencent on every detail of this program, from product form definition to terminal and access functions, since it launched in March this year.
The company just announced a benchmark Series C financing of RMB300 million (US$49 million) from Tencent and Dianping, adding that WiWide is the only one amongst its WiFi solutions peers to receive funding under the program. The capital is expected to be injected in hardware development, R&D and operations, he said. The company obtained Series B funding from Xiaomi last year, while an RMB10 million A round was secured from Greenwoods Investment in 2012.
WiWide, one of the earliest entrants to the Chinese public WiFi solution sector, was founded in 2007 by serial entrepreneur Jerry Zhang. It is a commercial provider of Wi-Fi network architecture and media services, along with targeted marketing services.
The long industry chain of the commercial WiFi industry makes it hard for companies to manage all the links, such as hardware, firmware, cloud, applications, business development, installation, and maintenance. Thus, most companies only focus on a few links of the industrial chain.
Unlike other rivals, WiWide aims to create an integrated process, offering Wi-Fi network service programming products and services, Wi-Fi network equipment, installation and 24-hour telephone maintenance support, and business development.
Zhang explained WiWide’s innovative approach from the following perspectives: 1) In the smartphone era, WiFi solutions are not just about internet access for customers, but creating gateways for bricks-and-mortar stores to gain customers by pushing services through WiFi hotspots. 2) WiWide offers free hardware and services to bricks-and-mortar stores, while generating revenue from ads and data analytics. The company is now making profits, mainly from premium brand ad clients, like BMW, Benz, Jaguar, Nokia, and Lenovo. 3) It provides wired and wireless networking systems controlled from the cloud. 4) WiWide is cooperating with a raft of companies like Tencent, Dianping and Xiaomi to enable convenient login and further Wi-Fi applications.
WiWide has signed contracts with over 20 main airports in China and over 500 well-known brands of commercial chain stores, from coffee bars (Starbucks, Costa Coffee) and restaurants (Häagen-Dazs, Burger King, South Beauty), to movie theaters, shops, conference centers, providing services to more than one million daily users in more than 30,000 hotspots.
The Beijing-headquartered startup now has more than 300 employees and operates three other branch offices in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chengdu.
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)