Boingo: Carrier WiFi Offload Still a Year Out

Despite doing a big wholesale business with the network operators, the head of the WiFi service provider Boingo isn't convinced most have a real WiFi offload strategy yet.

Rather, many wireless operators are stuck in phase one of WiFi offload, building distributed antenna systems (DAS), according to Boingo Wireless Inc.CEO David Hagan. He told analysts at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference this week that carrier offload strategies, or diverting cellular traffic to unlicensed spectrum to alleviate network congestion, are still a year or so from fruition.

Among the big four US wireless operators, Hagan said, Verizon Wireless andAT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) are the most active in DAS, but getting one of them in a network deployment almost guarantees you get the other. "They are hyper competitive about their competitor having a better user experience in major venues." Working with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US Inc. requires more effort, but Boingo averages three carriers per DAS network it deploys. (See Carrier WiFi's Not Winning in Sports Arenas.)

That's where most of the operators are today, even if they tend to devote more time to talking about their offload strategies. Phase two is actual offload to WiFi, which Hagan said is coming, though operators will give an obtuse answer as to when. "They don't have clear strategies. Depending on which department we talk to, they have different perspectives -- some are bullish, some are not. To me, that says it's going to be another year or so before it comes to fruition."

Given how slowly he expects pure and simple offload to take off, it's easy to see why he thinks Hotspot 2.0 will take even longer. Boingo has been an early mover there. It has tested the authentication technology in 21 airports across the US, but Hagan said that, even though the technology is ready, it's -- again -- a matter of getting the operators ready. Following a productive Mobile World Congress, he thinks a number of carriers will practice with a subset of their customers soon, but deployments could be a year to 18 months away. (SeeBoingo Expands Hotspot 2.0 to 21 Airports and Hotspot 2.0 Makes Slow & Steady Progress.)

"It'll take one rabbit, one first mover, then the whole market will move," he said. "We can do side bets on who we think the first mover will be. But, even from a carrier perspective, I don't think it's a question of if, but when."

Hagan said that Boingo has significant DAS agreements with all four of the big carriers. It has WiFi offload deals with three of the four -- including AT&T, which has been an aggressive early mover -- and a new deal with Verizon. He identified the biggest hurdles with all the operators as the need to map out their corporate strategies and figure out if they bundle WiFi access with data plans, make it incremental revenue, or offer free access. (See AT&T: Hotspot 2.0 Integral to Multimode Small Cells.)

"They need to work through the mechanics and marketing strategy with what they want to do with WiFi, but everything else is set," he said.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Our Methodology

Anyone can claim they do wireless site surveys, including those that walk around using free utilities that check for basic signal strength, without any training or understanding of how wireless works. That may be fine if you only need basic Internet connectivity, but if your network supports mission-critical applications, you need a professional-grade solution.

Our methodologies are what differentiate us from our competition. We start with the belief that combining the best tools and training with years of experience leads to the best wireless solutions available. Our formula for success includes the following:

Expert Certified Personnel

We start with a commitment to having the best trained personnel possible. We only employ or contract with Certified Wireless Network Professionals (CWNP).

We are proud to be a member of the prestigious CWNE roundtable, an exclusive committee of wireless experts dedicated to developing the highest level and most respect vendor-neutral certification in the wireless industry, as well as writing technical whitepapers.


Predictive Modeling

Predictive models, also known as virtual site surveys allow us to efficiently and accurately identify the number of access points required, as well as their initial placement and configuration. Modeling is ideal for creating "what if" scenarios that show us the effects of changes in real time. Our designs always start with a model which we then validate.


RF Spectrum Analysis

Because wireless networks operate in unlicensed frequencies, potential interference from numerous devices such as microwaves, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, video cameras, etc. can have a significant negative impact. RF spectrum analyzers are the only devices that can identify physical-layer interference, and no onsite wireless site survey is complete without this service.


Onsite Site Surveys / Validation

When the highest degree of accuracy is required for your mission-critical applications, there is no substitute for a professional-grade manual site survey.

Our surveys start with temporarily mounting the same access points and antennas that will be permanently installed. We then use professional-grade software to test not only for signal strength, but Signal-to-Noise ratio (SNR) to test the signal's viability, interference and data rates. Our thorough approach is the most accurate solution available.


Detailed Deliverables

Our reports spell out the facts, and leave no doubt in the customer's mind as to what the wireless network does or will look like.