iWay brings ewz’s fibre-optic network into the homes and offices of the city of Zurich. Initially, the two founders saw little potential in this business. Today they are celebrating their company’s 25th anniversary.

iWay: Prices for internet connection have dropped dramatically

‘We had an enormous opportunity,’ says Matthias Oswald, ‘and we totally missed the boat.’ Oswald, co-founder and CEO of the internet service provider iWay (in German) leans back in his chair and laughs. He’s talking about the early days of his company, 25 years ago, when he and his business partner Markus Vetterli decided over a round of beers to quit their jobs at UBS and launch their own company called Interway. At that time it was still possible to become an internet provider, but ‘we failed to realise just how much potential internet access had as a product, even though it was a new market segment at the time and it would have been easy to attract new customers.’ Instead, the two chose to focus on the technical aspects of websites, and more or less made ends meet that way.

‘You rarely get a second chance in life,’ says Matthias Oswald. ‘When ewz launched ewz.zürinet, we knew: we have to get on board. And we were ready.’

In 2007 and 2012, the residents of Zurich voted (in German) in favour of the creation of a comprehensive fibre-optic network. Starting in 2010, iWay was one of the first companies to use the new high-speed network to offer companies and private individuals access to the fibre-optic network. ‘At that time, high-speed internet was rare and expensive, and was therefore reserved primarily for larger companies,’ says Oswald. ‘Thanks to ewz.zürinet, we were able to significantly reduce prices. Later on, the big providers were forced to follow suit.’

A server room at iWay
The idea for iWay was born over a round of beers. Today, the internet provider in Zurich-Altstetten has 24,000 customers

ewz.zürinet: boosting the economy, improving quality of life

Another innovation was the fact that providers were able to offer symmetrical bandwidths, or identical upload and download speeds, explains Cristina Lüscher, Sales Specialist at ewz: ‘Before, that was reserved for exclusive and therefore costly business solutions.’ Roman Leiser, Head of Telecom Solutions Sales at ewz, praises iWay and the other service providers who bring ewz.zürinet into private homes and offices in Zurich via ewz’s FTTH network: ‘Our incredible partners help to boost the economy and improve people’s quality of life. They allow Zurich to connect to the technology of the future.’

At the end of 2019, the installation and connection of Zurich’s fibre-optic network was completed, with more than 90 per cent of properties connected. More than 270,000 private homes, offices and commercial buildings are now connected to the ewz.zürinet FTTH network – that’s 54,000 more connections than were originally planned for in 2012. ewz is proud to have completed one of the most complex projects in its history on time, with zero accidents, and within the budget of 400 million Swiss francs.

Matthias Oswald, co-founder and CEO of iWay
Matthias Oswald, co-founder and CEO of iWay

‘Given the increased decentralisation of work, the growing importance of cloud solutions and the streaming boom, only one future scenario really makes sense:

ewz’s fibre-optic network will become even more vital.’

A server rack at iWay
‘In Zurich, everyone is familiar with ewz’s fibre-optic network,’ says iWay CEO Matthias Oswald
A meeting room at iWay
Prices for high-speed internet have dropped thanks to ewz.zürinet
The Yoda statue at iWay
In the annual «Bilanz» telecom rankings, iWay takes first place year after year

As an engineer, Oswald praises ewz for its foresight: ‘ewz.zürinet offered Zurich a true competitive advantage as a business location.’ For iWay and other smaller providers, another invaluable advantage is that the city itself worked so hard to spread awareness of its fibre-optic network: ‘In the city, everyone is familiar with the ewz fibre-optic network,’ says Oswald.

At iWay, the cheapest fibre-optic connection costs CHF 29 a month – an unthinkably low price 10 years ago. The provider with 24,000 customers (Swisscom: 2 million) has found its niche, and not only thanks to its pricing. In the annual Bilanz telecom rankings, iWay takes first place year after year, and is particularly well-known for its support and flexibility. ‘When customers call our support hotline,’ says Oswald, ‘the call is answered by a technician who can immediately solve the problem themselves.’ Oswald is also proud of iWay’s Fritz Box: ‘One of the best in the world – it practically never goes offline.’

The partnership: ‘We’re a reliable partner – just like ewz’

COVID-19 brought iWay a lot of new customers. ‘At first, we asked ourselves where they were coming from. We thought the market was saturated,’ says Matthias Oswald. As it turned out, the switch to remote working resulted in greater demand. Previously, lots of people didn’t even have an internet connection in their homes, and simply used their smartphones to surf the web. Other customers requested an upgrade. ‘In order to work professionally form home, you need a faster connection,’ says Oswald.

This year, iWay celebrated its 25th anniversary. ‘That sounds more like something for a plumbing or carpentry business,’ says Matthias Oswald laughing. Few internet companies make it this long. ‘We’re older than Google, Facebook and Alibaba. And many of our employees have been with us for over 20 years. We’re a reliable partner – just like ewz. We’ve grown together over time, and together we’ve achieved success.’

And what does the future hold? Is Oswald worried that 5G could replace stationary internet? ‘No,’ he says, ‘we see a coexistence. We’ve seen that the expansion of the 5G network requires a lot of work, which in turn increases costs – fibre optic has the advantage here. Plus, fibre-optic networks are faster and don’t generate any emissions.’ For Oswald, given the increased decentralisation of work, the growing importance of cloud solutions and the streaming boom, only one future scenario really makes sense: ‘ewz’s fibre-optic network will become even more vital.’

An office at iWay
‘When customers call our support hotline, the call is answered by a technician who can immediately solve the problem themselves’

About ewz.zürinet

The world is getting faster. Demand for bandwidth to transmit high-speed internet, high-resolution TV, streaming and teleworking is constantly growing. That’s why we provide our city with the comprehensive ewz.zürinet fibre-optic network. A modern fibre-optic infrastructure is vitally important: it strengthens the economy and improves quality of life.

There are currently eight service provider on ewz’s fibre-optic network with attractive offers for internet, TV and phone service. You can find interesting offers on ewz.zürinet.

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Person responsible at ewz

Cristina Lüscher
Specialist in Telecom Solution Sales

+41 (0) 58 319 41 85