By Stephanie Kinch, Wi-Fi NOW Staff Writer
Providing a stable Wi-Fi connection is good. Creating a smart city based on that connection is even better. That’s the idea behind Citymesh, a Belgian Internet service provider that develops and delivers high-speed Wi-Fi for cities, campsites, events, and expos.
“Our goal is to be more than just a Wi-Fi integrator because soon, providing just the connection isn’t going to be enough,” says Government Sales Director Bart Couvreur. “If we have clients with unique ideas on how to build a smarter city or space with Wi-Fi, we want to be able to make them happen.”
So what exactly is a ‘smart city’?
Citymesh’s business model stems from the increasingly popular concept of the smart city. The European Union defines a smart city as “a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies, for the benefit of its inhabitants and businesses.”
The trend is catching on. According to an April Wall Street Journal article:
In just the past few years, mayors and other officials in cities across the country (USA) have begun to draw on the reams of data at their disposal—about income, burglaries, traffic, fires, illnesses, parking citations and more—to tackle many of the problems of urban life. Whether it’s making it easier for residents to find parking places, or guiding health inspectors to high-risk restaurants, or giving smoke alarms to the households that are most likely to suffer fatal fires, big-data technologies are beginning to transform the way cities work.
A data-based approach
Citymesh ambition is to ride the wave of the smart city trend by creating city-wide public Wi-Fi networks in Belgium. They do this with a Wi-Fi management platform that they own and develop themselves.
Citymesh uses this data to create intelligent digital signage via splash pages or other tools, which are sent to the user when they walk by a particular store or city landmark. The company analyses the data to understand traffic patterns, and create targeted ads based on the user’s demographic profile. Citymesh is among others working with outdoor advertising company Clear Channel to intelligently boost the effectiveness of ads through Wi-Fi.
A winding road to success
When Citymesh started in 2007, the founders set out with a vision to provide Wi-Fi to all of Belgium. But the public was just starting to get used to smartphones, and cities and municipalities didn’t see the benefits of creating large-scale Wi-Fi networks.
“We found out the hard way that it wasn’t as simple as setting up a network and that the time for it wasn’t right just yet,” says Freek Pauwels, Citymesh’s Founder and Operator Sales Director. “Frankly, we entered the city Wi-Fi market too early.”
Instead of closing down the company, Citymesh narrowed their focus to places where people couldn’t get a stable internet connection: Vacation parks, campgrounds, and exhibition and conference halls.
Profits from these niche markets provided fuel for the company while Wi-Fi gained in popularity. A few years later, Citymesh installed its first city Wi-Fi network in Antwerp, and has created all of 19 networks in major Belgian cities in the years since. They’ve also developed their own in-house developed Wi-Fi management platform called WiFiLAB.
While camping, conferences, and expo halls still represent an important part of Citymesh’s core business, Bart Couvreur says that future plans involve a more holistic approach.
“Our goal is to be more than a simple Wi-Fi integrator,” he says. “We want to be the service provider of choice for anyone out there to help them deliver wireless connectivity today for a smart city tomorrow.”