A Newsweek article about the future of Internet cafes caught my attention. I have been thinking about how cybercafes need to become “telecentres” – a kind-of cross between the cybercafes as we know them and Kinkos, providing computing and communications services. They can become tech service points for the have-nots in the emerging markets. These telecentres (or tech 7-11s as I used to call them earlier) can be a good opportunity for our thin client-thick server solution.

The Newsweek article talks about easyInternetCafe:

EasyInternetCafe is a subsidiary of easyGroup, run by a fleet-footed entrepreneur named Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

EasyGroup hopes to do the same with Internet cafes: the Times Square cafe has extremely low overhead and prices. At the front, customers line up to put cash into vending machines that give them credits for online usage. They then pick out any empty computer and log on. Depending on time of day, the price ranges from a maximum of $4 an hour down to-say, at 3:00 AM-twenty-five cents an hour, averaging about $1 an hour. In short, its demand-based pricing that adjusts constantly, exactly the way airline seats are sold. You can even buy access, at a discount, for a date several months in the future.

EasyInternetCafe is no-frills: no printers, for example. If you want to print, you email the document to yourself and visit a Kinkos. And no technical advice, eitherwhile techs fix broken machines, no one will tell you how to insert a photo into your e-mail.

EasyGroup, having thoroughly field-tested its automated model in London and Manhattan, will now roll out fifteen-computer versions that fit in two hundred square feet-basically Internet cafes in a box-across the US. Theyre aiming to put automated Internet access inside existing establishments such as McDonalds or Burger King, and also to offer it as a franchise opportunity. And theyre looking as well at the developing world, where low-cost public Internet access is increasingly crucial.

Forbes (free regn reqd) also had an article on them in December and provides additional context:

Stelios has sunk $130 million into his own 23 large branded internet cafes and now claims to have the model just right.

Stelios figures that he’s reduced costs at his cafes by 75%, mostly through labor savings. His new 35- to 75-screen model, virtually staffless, will be profitable if he can get $7 per PC per day. That’s attainable, he says, considering stores are typically open 16 hours a day.

Stelios says that the challenge now is to get his smaller, stand-alone internet concessions into libraries, airports, hotels, bus stations, restaurants and movie theaters and to franchise the chain as much as possible. The plan is to have 2000 outlets in three years.

“Just about every High Street shop or restaurant has 150 to 300 square meters somewhere that is underutilized. My job now is to try to unlock that space. It depends of course whether these people will feel comfortable with our brand in their shop, but that’s the challenge: convincing them that we are good for their primary business. The most expensive dining area is an empty dining area,” he says.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.