SugarBox is a homegrown hyper local CDN Brand that aims to solve the problem of availability, affordability, and reliability of internet connectivity – for everyone, everywhere. SugarBox uses a technology called Hyperlocal Content Distribution Network (CDN) that enables services to deliver high-speed content anywhere without users requiring any internet or data connectivity. A hyper-local CDN installs servers at places where consumers are present and where services are used – transportation centers residential and commercial complexes, retail and hospitality, and many more. One of the most unique disruptions that the SugarBox technology creates is that it is able to make the concept of public Wi-Fi profitable. The Mission and Vision of SugarBox is making internet services more available, reliable, affordable, and contextual and SugarBox is reimagining data delivery
On a monthly basis, Indians spend 8-10 billion hours traveling. That’s a lot of times where users are stuck in one place and have nothing else to do other than burying themselves in their devices, and this is where networks don’t work. SugarBox aims to connect these dots through which they can enable the entire digital ecosystem and add about 8-10 billion hours of digital consumption to it. There are multiple different use cases that come in here. Sugarbox helps users play games, listen to music, order grocery online, book cabs, and even up-skill using ed-tech apps. This is essentially what Sugarbox does to facilitate across all modes of public transport. Currently, SugarBox has partnered with ZEE5 and they are going to be partnered with 2-3 Gaming brands and Fintech Brands as well by end of this month.
In an exclusive chat with Medianews4U Naarayan TV, VP, Marketing, SugarBox Networksspeaks on the mission & vision of Sugarbox, growth, and much more….
SugarBox Networks has launched about 4 years ago, how has the journey been and what were the challenges then and now?
SugarBox Networks is truly a ‘Once in a lifetime’ kind of an idea. The journey started with our founders piloting the initial version at one of the suburban railway stations in Mumbai, where 200 movies on a box got consumed in a jiffy. From there, we’ve grown to have multiple patents issued in the US and in India, for our technology and several more that have been filed across the globe. In essence, we’ve changed gears from ideation to proving that we are the “World’s First Hyperlocal Content Delivery Network”.
What makes SugarBox unique is that we are looking at bringing the next 500 million customers into the digital fold, within our country. That means going into the remotest parts of India and getting them online, whilst serving the urban customers – who are already online but grappling with issues related to connectivity.
The initial days were more about POC and idea validation, whereas today we are speaking about scale and growth. From where we stand today, the challenge isn’t about whether the technology works, it’s more about how much more can we do with it? It’s no more about how, rather how soon we can have millions of customers experience the joy of SugarBox and the tangible difference we can make to the ecosystem we operate in. Every day we discover more use-cases where SugarBox can play a huge role in helping customers and businesses discover each other and so it’s a question of what we prioritize first.
SugarBox Networks was launched in 2016, and since then our growth has traversed from simply being an idea-pad to disrupting the market with innovations, for any industry possible.
How has the pandemic and lockdown directly or indirectly affect your business?
The pandemic is what you call a bolt from the blue. It’s a black swan event of gigantic proportions. It’s affected the way we live our lives, across the planet! So, it’s obvious that every business has been affected by it in some way or the other.
In our case, we’ve had to tweak some of our plans to ensure that our long-term vision of building the brand is not impacted. In October 2019, we went live with deploying our Edges across Hyderabad Metro and then quickly followed it up with Chennai Metro in February 2020. Even during disruptions caused by the pandemic, we managed to successfully launch our proof-of-concept installations in Rajdhani Trains (so far 5 of them traversing the destination of Mumbai – Delhi), as well as a few Mumbai Suburban / local trains.
But in many ways, we’ve also utilized this time to look at building customer-centric solutions for verticals including Ecommerce, OTT, Edutech, Fin-tech, to name a few.
In this duration, we’ve hired more people every quarter across functions, right from Technology/Engineering/Product to Business/Marketing/Branding, which reflects our faith in the brand and its potential to make an impactful change in the consumers’ lives.
As we speak, we are in the process of deploying our Edges in about 25 villages by this month and will expand to about 100 villages by end of this year. As the lockdowns become more manageable, you will see SugarBox Networks in locations next to your home. We are as hyperlocal as hyperlocal can be and it sure sounds like good days are to come.
What is the nature of the investment by ZEE?
Looking at the potential of the Hyperlocal Technology at SugarBox Networks, ZEEL made an initial investment of 75 crores in 2017. Riding the growth curve, in 2020, Zee came in with the second round of investments, committing an additional 522crs, towards the venture.
Today there are many OTT platforms and Apps, are you also looking to tie up with them?
At SugarBox Networks, we can help our partners grow their business as our network scales up. When you think about it, we can make ecommerce possible in villages that have really patchy networks or help them consume content from an OTT platform even when there’s no network.
As regards other categories, we clearly know the value that we can add to partners (web or app) across the digital ecosystem. We’ve already tied up with leading e-com players who’ll soon be supported in the SugarBox network. We are seeing great interest from partners across verticals including Edu-tech, Fin-tech, Mobility, and many others.
Yes, it’s the golden era of OTTs, where cutting the cord seems to be the norm. So yes, we are clearly focused on tying up with multiple players in the OTT segment. We already have Zee5 as our partner and are in fairly advanced stages of discussion with many large OTT players, across the industry. In the next couple of months, you’ll see many national and regional OTT players on the SugarBox network.
Who are your competitors?
This is an interesting one. In the traditional sense of the word, we function as a CDN (Content Delivery Network) but what makes us unique is that we are the “World’s First Hyperlocal Content Delivery Network”. Typically, the CDN business works in a B2B model where customers don’t know that the content (data) they are consuming is being cached out of a CDN. In our case, we are a B2B2C company, where customers latch on to the SugarBox network and discover partner apps that we support. So, it’s fair to say that we are in the consumer-tech space, somewhere at the intersection of Digital infrastructure, Telecom, and CDN. So, we are creating a brand and a category at the same time.
Data is cheap in India and Jio has captured the market, how does Sugarbox work in Tier 1 & 2 markets?
India is amongst the leading markets across the world offering the most affordable data price points. However, the reality is that the industry we operate in must solve for two fundamental issues – connectivity or reach and optimum experience when concurrent usage is high. And on both these counts, we’ve made progress, but have a long way to go.
Even for a customer who has an excellent 4G plan, the moment of truth is when they stream content or try placing an order on an e-com portal using their mobile phone, while traveling or being in-transit (say by a train). The experience is nowhere near good, rather not possible. This is where SugarBox Networks help.
By virtue of being hyperlocal, we can deploy our Edges where customers are. In essence, at home, in trains, on-air crafts, villages, buses, or any place that you want. These Edges are installed close enough to the users so that they can be accessed via wired and wireless Local Area Networks, to reduce the amount of internet bandwidth required by users. Also, because we are a CDN with computing ability, we are able to intelligently cache and free up bandwidth thereby enabling concurrent users to experience apps/websites without buffering.
Our value proposition is that data consumed by a user via SugarBox is absolutely free of cost. It definitely can’t get cheaper than that.
When it comes to tier 2, 3, or 4, the problem we solve is of scale and experience at the same time. SugarBox Networks can literally bring the next billion consumers online.
How is SugarBox marketed, how does your message reach your TG?
We are a hyperlocal consumer technology company. So, on one end of the spectrum, we can target via digital and at the other, opt for traditional marketing like on-ground activation. Since our use-cases are multifold, we have to adopt a “horses for courses” approach, where we rely on practicality more than anything else. For example, in villages, we tend to be more regional and local in flavor and opt for an influencer-on ground, whereas in urban SEC-A depending on the location where we are present, we customize our approach to include digital and outdoor mediums. Our messaging in a Hyderabad metro will be very different from that in a village at Uttarakhand. Messaging and Medium are equally important for us.
As we expand our footprint in India and across the globe, you’ll see us driving micro-messaging as opposed to a blanket strategy. The idea is to ensure that we build a partnership eco-system, where our partner apps also benefit as we grow.
One of the key parts of our messaging strategy is to look at our audiences and then map their interests to a partner category. For example, we may choose to lead with our partner messaging on education in a village where there are school-going kids/upskilling needs as against OTT in a Hyderabad metro.
Where do you see yourself in the next 3 years?
In the next few years, it’s fair to say that you’ll see SugarBox Networks in locations ranging from urban cities, public areas, villages, hospitals, hotels, and all possible key consumer touchpoints.
We believe that digital consumption in rural parts of India is definitely the next frontier. By the year-end, we’ll be present in about 100 villages, and in the coming years, those numbers will only grow exponentially. Our vision is to have at least 500 million customers in India and other developing countries in the next few years. We also believe that our patented technology has applications we could extend to international geographies, right from South-East Asia, Latin America, Africa, and virtually every other part of the globe.