In a world of iPhone 4s and battles over who supplies ads on the Apple mobile platform, some folks are touting their local connections and 2G services. To wit: AirFire Mobile executives believe they’ve got the winning combination of mobile marketing and low-cost service plans.
Airadigm Communications last week unveiled its new AirFire brand, replacing the Einstein brand, and followed that up this week with the coupon phone, which the company says can pay for itself in the deals, discounts and coupons that customers receive.
There are caveats, of course. The AirFire brand operates only in the state of Wisconsin, and it doesn’t own a license to operate a network in Milwaukee. Airadigm’s history, which dates back to the mid-1990s, includes a bankruptcy that is close to being resolved. But operationally, COO Abraham Levine says it’s all systems go, and the company is profitable.
He hopes it will become more profitable, however, with new $35 rate plans and the advertising it offers local businesses. The $35 per month plan includes unlimited talk, text, Web service and picture mail and one-click mobile coupon access to discounts at local businesses. AirFire Mobile’s newest phone models come equipped with a one-button hot key or on-screen widget for accessing the discounts. New deals are directed to consumers via text messages.
The company spent a considerable amount of time hunting for phones that would support its quick coupon access, explains Jeff Hutkoff, AirFire Mobile’s director of marketing. A lot of models might have worked, but they required on the order of 15 or more clicks to finally get to the discount destination. Eventually, however, the company found Nokia and Motorola models that could be properly formatted with the hot key or button that quickly takes end users where they need to go. It now offers about 10 models from which to choose, including at least one smartphone.
Now, just days into its service launch, the company is hearing from iPhone owners who want the button put on their phones. (Hutkoff says iPhone owners with unlocked phones can bring them to Airadigm and the company will enable the discounts on their phones.)
“The reason they want it is all the coupons are local. This isn’t Coke or Pepsi or the Gap. This is all small Mom and Pops,” like home and garden, entertainment and other outlets that aren’t going to advertise through Google or the like, Hutkoff says.
Businesses pay Airadigm to send text messages advertising their services and offering discounts, and while legacy Airadigm customers – which number in the 25,000 range – can stay on existing plans, any new customers to the $35 plan need to opt in for the discounts. Not that anyone seems to be complaining too much. Both Hutkoff and Levine say the company has been inundated with calls and inquiries from interested consumers willing to get mobile coupons to save money.
The GSM/EDGE carrier competes with brands like Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Boost Mobile, U.S. Cellular and in some markets, Leap Wireless International’s Cricket and MetroPCS. Consumers have those other choices, but if they sign with Airadigm, they get the cheap plan and the discounts.
Based in Little Chute, Wis., Airadigm executives say what their company is doing is not something that could be easily replicated by a big company. It’s got people knocking on doors and explaining the value for businesses, and it knows the communities where it owns cell towers and offers services.
“That’s an advantage in being a smaller carrier,” Hutkoff says. “If you have a problem, we’re here. We understand Wisconsin … We’re not some voice on the phone from New York trying to sign up a Mom and Pop [enterprise]. We’re acting as an advocate for smaller businesses, that’s something the other companies can’t touch.”
Soon, Airadigm will have to top itself. “The launch of the coupon phone is revolutionary but the task is now evolutionary,” Hutkoff says. “The phones we have don’t have to do a million apps, just one or two or three things really well,” and they have to be the top things that every customer wants.
As Levine has told board members, “this isn’t the end of what we’re doing but the beginning,” with new services or enhancements planned for upcoming months and quarters. “We’re already examining what our Phase II handsets will look like.”