Boingo Pushes Convergence of WLAN/WAN

By Ed Sutherland

March 18, 2003

Despite what some see as upheaval in the public access market, the top hotspot aggregator continues to go for growth, moving its software to support not just 802.11 but also cellular technology.

In the turbulent world of Wi-Fi hotspots Boingo Wireless is a survivor. As smaller competitors fall by the wayside, Boingo hopes to both thwart remaining competitors, like Cometa, while wooing cellular carriers and Internet service providers seeking to enter the market with the least fuss.

The recently announced Boingo Platform software melds the wide-area networking world of carriers and local-area Wi-Fi connections. By June 1, anyone with a laptop equipped for 802.11b and cellular connection will be able to roam between 802.11-based hotspots and 2.5G cell networks using PC Cards with GPRS, CDMA 1x or iDEN technology. The software also enables carriers to offer subscribers both traditional cell phone service and Wi-Fi data service while maintaining brand identity and avoiding the headaches of developing back-end systems and roaming technology.

"The company has spent two years and $10 million developing client software, back office systems and roaming technology that can now be leveraged by other service providers," said a Boingo statement.

Carriers Come Calling

Cellular carrier Sprint PCS is an investor in Boingo, but they're far from the only cellular carrier embracing public access Wi-Fi. Carrier T-Mobile owns the nearly 2,000 T-Mobile Hotspots in Starbucks coffee shops, Borders book stores and many airport lounges. AT&T Wireless has also launched GoPort, a hotspot service for hotels and airports. And this week Verizon announced its entry in the fray.

"The market for wireless Internet access is paralleling the development of the early ISP business," says Sky Dayton, Boingo's founder and chairman. Dayton earlier founded ISP EarthLink.

Packaging Boingo's network of Wi-Fi hotspot operators under a private label is a smart move, according to Ed Rerisi, director of research at Allied Business Intelligence.

Rerisis says Boingo's move is both offensive and defensive. Boingo wants to "thwart the big guys" by increasing its coverage. For hotspot operators, "coverage is the name of the game," says Rerisi. By including support for cell phone customers, Boingo can greatly expand its area of coverage.

The move by Boingo directly competes with Cometa Network, an alliance of AT&T, IBM and Intel hoping to sell back-office services to carriers and ISPs looking to start hotspots -- just the customers Boingo's new Platform Services aims to capture.

"Boingo wants to position themselves against Cometa," says Rerisi. Boingo is "in a good place," he says. (That explains the title of the aggregator's new white paper: "Towards Ubiquitous Wireless Broadband: The Wi-Fi Business Model, Challenges to Adoption and Boingo's Role in the Industry.")

Boingo's Position

Boingo is positioning its combined cellular and Wi-Fi network as "a complete wireless data solution" relieving the load in congested areas while giving cell carriers ubiquitous coverage.

Also, Boingo's ability to hang on and even grow in the face of Joltage shutting down, T-Mobile price cuts, and other changes, "shows scale is important" in the hotspot market, says Rerisi.

Boingo says the rebranded software will give carriers access to private and public Wi-Fi networks, a hotspot 'sniffer' and built-in virtual private networks for security.

The hotspot aggregator says its software will filter out the signals from competitors, offering users only the ability to connect to their subscribed carrier or ISP.

The first customers to sign up for Boingo's private label platform are Fiberlink Communications, a provider of remote access for enterprises, and ISP EarthLink, where Sky Dayton still serves as chairman.

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