John Willis i-wireless Interview
Hear What The COO Has To Say!

i-wireless Krogeri-wireless, LLC is a Sprint MVNO that offers prepaid wireless service in Kroger owned stores.  John Willis, COO, was generous enough to share his time with to ask him some questions.  Thank you you John!

Interview Date:  July 13, 2010

1. [PWG] Can you share some history of the company and its name?  With several i-wireless companies offering cellular service, is there a concern about brand confusion?John Willis i-wireless

[Willis] i-wireless launched in the fall of 2006 and is a joint-venture partnership with the Kroger Company.  The company has secured a licensing agreement for the i-wireless i-wireless launched in the fall of 2006 and is a joint-venture partnership with the brand from Cincinnati Bell.  Kroger i-wireless is the exclusive private-label wireless service provider for the nation’s largest grocery retailer with service available in more than 2,200 Kroger-owned stores across the US.  Services are provided on the Sprint Nationwide network and the correct URL for Kroger i-wireless is

Although there are multiple telecom service providers that utilize the i-wireless brand, their operating territories do not overlap with one another, thus having a minimal impact on any potential brand confusion among customers.

2. [PWG] What’s i-wireless’ value proposition that you want potential customers to know as they seek out a prepaid service provider that meets their needs?

[Willis] i-wireless offers competitive rate plans, quality handsets and a loyalty program that is unique to the industry.  When an i-wireless customer spends $100 at Kroger (or a Kroger-owned store), they earn a FREE MINUTES reward of either 20 FREE MINUTES or a $1 credit to their i-wireless account.  The rewards can accumulate and will not expire as long as the account is active.  This offers customers the unique opportunity to reduce their wireless bill without changing their lifestyle.

3. [PWG] The MVNO market has undergone some consolidation in recent years, but still remains fairly crowded.  What’s your strategy to continue to remain competitive?

[Willis] i-wireless is able to offer a distinctly unique competitive advantage because of its relationship with the Kroger Company.  With the FREE MINUTES rewards program, Kroger is the only retailer in the country able to reward its customers with free wireless service when they shop at the Kroger family of stores.  The more you shop, the more FREE MINUTE rewards you earn.  Research has shown that this type of loyalty program has increased the frequency of store visits and the average spend per shopping transaction among customers that are i-wireless users.  Retailers are constantly focused on increasing customer loyalty and using wireless service as an incentive is very appealing to customers.

4. [PWG] How large is your current subscriber base?

[Willis] As a privately-owned entity, we are not required to disclose our subscriber count.

5. [PWG] Can you speak to i-wireless’ distribution strategy?  You appear to be focusing on large retailers; do you have any plans for distribution in the indirect wireless dealer channel?

[Willis] As the private label wireless service for the nation’s largest pure-play grocer, we are focused on servicing the needs of the more than 40 million customers that shop at Kroger on a weekly basis.

6. [PWG] i-wireless has a unique bonus/loyalty program.  Can you describe how it works and the value that your customers can derive?

[Willis] i-wireless offers a unique loyalty/rewards program to its customers.  FREE MINUTES is a great way to cut back on your wireless bill without having to change current behavior. The FREE MINUTES program works by rewarding customers for shopping at a Kroger-owned store.  Each time $100 is spent in-store, a reward is automatically applied to a customer’s account.  Depending on the type of rate plan you select, your reward will be applied as either a dollar credit to your account balance or as bonus minutes that are added to the minute bucket included with your rate plan.  For example, if you are on a pay-per-use or monthly plan, you can earn 20 FREE MINUTES for every $100 spent in-store.  If you are on an unlimited talk or unlimited talk and text plan, you can earn a $1 credit that is applied to your i-wireless account.  Rewards accumulate and as long as an account is active, they do not expire.

FREE MINUTES is an easy and convenient way for customers to earn discounts on their wireless service when they do their grocery shopping at Kroger.  Additionally, the FREE MINUTES program is incremental to the Fuel Rewards program that Kroger already offers, meaning that a customer does not have to choose between fuel points or FREE MINUTES.  Both are earned on the same purchase.  It’s a win-win for a customer who is looking for a quality wireless service without spending upwards of $60 per month.

7. [PWG] How do you see the prepaid, no contract wireless market evolving five years from now?  What do you expect the subscriber distribution to be between classic pay as you go vs. monthly vs. monthly unlimited plans?

[Willis] The last 24 months have been instructive in revealing what customers are looking for in a wireless service provider; unlimited wireless service at a simple, flat-rate price, is taking a larger share of the market.  We think in some respects will become the normal pricing structure.  Similar to what has happened with broadband pricing, regardless of your use or access, you pay a single price.  It makes it easier to buy and easier to sell, which compliments our distribution strategy.

8. [PWG] You have some nice QWERTY handsets in your lineup at reasonable price points.  Does i-wireless have plans to add BlackBerry or Google Android smartphones to your lineup?  If yes, when?  If not, do you see this as a risk to your growth as these higher end handsets become more commonplace in prepaid?

[Willis] Recent studies have shown that consumers use their phones mostly for text messaging and data services, so keeping up with the smartphone trend is necessary in this industry.  We have just added our first touchscreen phone to the line-up, the Samsung Seek.  As technology changes and handsets become available to us, we will add Android platform smartphones and other quality phones that our customers expect from us.

9. [PWG] Prepaid broadband is a fast growing market with a high customer interest; is i-wireless considering offering prepaid broadband service, whether with USB modems or netbooks?

[Willis] The key to all fast-growing markets is to be able to get in with a competitive cost and a quality product.  i-wireless is currently offering i-wireless mobile broadband in Fred Meyer stores with the intent to expand the line into our footprint in Kroger stores nationwide.  Our mobile broadband card is $99.99 and we do not charge an activation fee.  Service for i-wireless mobile broadband is pay-per-use, whether it is a daily, weekly, or monthly plan.  There are no contracts and no credit checks.  It’s a very simple, plug-and-play device with nationwide coverage on the Sprint Mobile Broadband network.

10. [PWG] What additional thoughts would you like to leave potential customers with regarding i-wireless’ products and services?

[Willis] i-wireless is a company that is dedicated to servicing the needs of our customer.  We encourage customers to provide us feedback so that we can remain their wireless service of choice.  Our products and service offerings are top-notch.  We strive each day to live within the Kroger mindset – more value for the way you live.  In our world, we provide more value for the way you talk, text, and surf.

John Willis i-wireless Interview

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