As WiFi becomes carrier-class, it will be able to support a broadening range of carrier use cases, not just simple offload. Aggregator Boingo Wireless is determined to leverage that trend and take the lead in profiting from Passpoint and Next Generation Hotspot (NGH), the standards which lie at the heart of carrier WiFi. Boingo expects to go live with a second carrier deal for cellular/WiFi integration and offload, following its landmark agreement with Sprint, CFO Peter Hovenier told an investor conference.
In May, Sprint signed a multiyear WiFi offload deal with Boingo, which will support seamless hand-off between its cellular network and WiFi hotspots, enabled by Passpoint and NGH, initially at 35 major airports. The WiFi Alliance’s Passpoint specification on the device side supports seamless hand-off and instant authentication, significantly improving the WiFi user experience, while the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s NGH complements it on the infrastructure side.
These tools enable carriers like Sprint to make WiFi an integral element of a HetNet, looking beyond simple data offload to integration at the mobile core and a seamless pool of capacity. Under Sprint’s agreement with Boingo, up to 40m of the carrier’s handsets will be able to auto-authenticate with Boingo hotspots for no extra charge. WiFi usage will not count towards a customer’s monthly service plan.
The biggest initial breakthrough for Passpoint and NGH came last year when Time Warner Cable started to deploy the technologies. Boingo then agreed a Passpoint roaming deal with TWC, which covers over 70,000 Passpoint hotspots in the US.
Now it is working to build on those foundations by getting more operators to follow the Sprint model – an approach which provides large scale and long term revenue streams for the aggregator, compared to enterprise or consumer roaming deals. Hovenier told a Credit Suisse technology media and telecom conference in Arizona: “We are highly confident and believe we will have carrier number two live in the first half of next year.”
He said that tests were currently ongoing with this operator. “They’re looking at the user experience and how the network works throughout the locations, looking to see whether they are freeing up spectrum,” Hovenier said.
He is also confident that, when mobile operators step up their offload and HetNet strategies, they will need to work with Boingo for access to key locations like the World Trade Center and major airports. “They may do some trials with other players as well, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be exclusive, but when they use our networks, it’s exclusive,” he explained. And the more Boingo works with large MNOs, the more use cases it will develop for WiFi, including mobile WiFi Calling. Boingo is working with Sprint on voice services in different locations and “being very thoughtful about this, because to them, if there’s a quality issue, the consumer will blame them, not Boingo,” said the CFO.
Boingo has switched its emphasis increasingly from aggregation to its own infrastructure over the years and is currently engaged in a wave of upgrades to support higher speeds, Passpoint/NGH, denser hotzones (especially important for WiFi voice) and other carrier-class credentials. The largest mount of capex will be seen in the first half of next year, after which the focus will move towards backhaul.