However, even though she faced difficulties accessing the internet, Yuyun used several methods to sell her products to her clients, who live as far away as Jakarta. These included the use of WhatsApp to advertise her small business, promotional posters that she created on a design app, and Shopee—an e-commerce platform—to sell her products. What is her secret of being technologically savvy and well connected in a place without internet access?
Yuyun showed us a box stenciled “Voucher – Wi-Fi” where she kept a pile of paper coupons (the vouchers). The coupons allow buyers to access the internet. She sells two kinds of coupons, one worth IDR 2,000 (~USD 0.14) for two-hour unlimited use and another worth IDR 5,000 (~USD 0.35) for all-day unlimited use. Such coupons are reasonably cheap and cost the same as a small box of milk that children usually buy. The package details are printed on the coupon. Customers only need to turn on the Wi-Fi feature on their mobile phone, enter the username and password, and connect to the internet.
The chart below shows the share of Wi-Fi voucher sales in Yuyun’s weekly revenue compared to other products, for example, snacks and daily necessities. The revenue from Wi-Fi voucher sales varied from time to time, from IDR 8,000 (~USD 0.56) to IDR 185,000 (~USD 12.96) per week. It shows that despite not being the main selling product, the Wi-Fi voucher remained a constant part of Yuyun’s total revenue.
Yuyun is not the only one who sells Wi-Fi vouchers in her area. The Wi-Fi voucher business is mushrooming, especially in densely populated areas with many blank spots in Temanggung and Wonosobo. The business model of Wi-Fi vouchers is through agencies. Small sellers like Yuyun are agents who receive routers and coupon papers from larger entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs usually understand networks and other technical issues better and also determine the market price of Wi-Fi vouchers. Agents like Yuyun earn around IDR 500 – IDR 1,000 (~USD 0.035 – USD 0.070) from sales per coupon.
The signal of the Wi-Fi network, which Yuyun sells vouchers for comes from an access point device installed in her house. The access point functions as a “repeater” and extends the range of the internet signals that the users could not reach earlier. Yuyun spent IDR 70,000 (~USD 4.89) to install the access point. Meanwhile, the fee charged for personal use is IDR 350,000 (~USD 24.45) for access point installation and IDR 30,000 (~USD 2.10) for internet usage per user per month.
The Wi-Fi signal is sourced from the fiber optic cables owned by big internet providers, such as PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia (IndiHome). The Wi-Fi voucher entrepreneurs usually live close to the location of the fiber optic cables. They subscribe to internet data from an established provider and then they connect their modem to the router using a LAN cable. This router serves as a bandwidth distributor. Some routers also have an implanted access point to transmit the signal to the user, although others have to buy an access point device separately. The router has hotspot software embedded. The device is then connected to the PC using a cable to operate the software. The Wi-Fi voucher entrepreneur then sells the Wi-Fi signal through agents like Yuyun. They install access point devices in the agent’s house or corner shop so the signal can be distributed there. Ideally, Wi-Fi users should be maximum of five meters from the access point device to get optimum signal strength.
The router, access point devices, and other tools needed for this business are not hard to procure. These tools can be purchased easily at local computer stores or through e-commerce platforms. The prices also vary and are dynamic following the fluctuation of the USD exchange rate.
The quality of the Wi-Fi signal is more stable than the ordinary mobile network signal because it comes from an optical cable and is relayed by several extenders constantly. Errors or outages are rare. When they occur, it is usually for three reasons. First, the big providers may experience system disruption, for example, due to extreme weather. Second, the Wi-Fi entrepreneur may not have paid the internet subscription bill to the primary provider. Third, the access point device may be damaged, for example, due to unstable electricity or lightning strikes. Disruptions are rare because the big providers carry out system maintenance routinely and the electricity supply is usually good. However, if services are disrupted, an agent like Yuyun cannot do anything because they depend heavily on the performance of the Wi-Fi entrepreneur and the primary provider.
The Wi-Fi voucher model is not something new. Big mobile providers like Telkomsel have previously sold internet voucher products at affordable prices. The demand for internet packages has increased since 2013, along with the widespread use of Android-based mobile phones. However, the bigger mobile providers’ signal usually comes from a base transceiver station (BTS) tower, which is not as stable as the signal from optical cables. Compared to optical cables, the BTS tower has a broader coverage area. The signal from the BTS tower faces more obstacles or blockaders, such as hills, large trees, and buildings, resulting in blanks spots. The Wi-Fi voucher business carried out by local entrepreneurs who use optical cables covers these gaps.
Coming back to Yuyun, we see that despite limited access to resources, Wi-Fi vouchers proved to be an opportunity. The entrepreneur used the internet to develop her business despite limited access to resources. However, information obtained from the internet was not the only inspiration for Yuyun to become technologically savvy. For example, migrant neighbors or relatives visiting from the city also gave Yuyun insights into current events and opportunities for those like her who lived in rural Indonesia.