By Gretchen Hyman
April 19, 2002
Dayton demonstrates his newest Internet innovation that enables remote wireless connectivity from a nationwide network of Wi-Fi hot spots.
LOS ANGELES–Sky Dayton, founder and chairman of Earthlink, eCompanies, and most recently Boingo Wireless, presented his latest Internet cash cow at iWireless World this week as example of the innovative direction the wireless industry can take when it isn’t stalled by competitive wireless carriers and conflicting technologies.
After founding Earthlink in 1993, now the second-largest Internet service provider in the U.S., Dayton moved on to greener pastures with friend and colleague Jake Winebaum and founded eCompanies in 1999, a launching pad for Internet start-ups.
Dayton’s newest baby is Boingo Wireless, a wireless Internet service that operates a rapidly expanding network of Wi-Fi high-speed wireless local-area networks (LAN), also known as IEEE 802.11b.
Short for ‘wireless fidelity,’ Wi-Fi “hot spots” or nodes can be wirelessly tapped into from a laptop or mobile device, providing wireless mobile users, in particular business travelers, with instantaneous Internet access 11 megabits per second.Hot spots are typically found in a 3-500 foot radius of space in a commercial area like a hotel, airport, restaurant, or coffee shop.
With 500 hot spots so far amassed in the Boingo network, including major airports and hotels, Dayton’s Wi-Fi network is ramping up quickly with plans to triple if not quadruple the number of Wi-Fi operators within its network over the next two years, meeting the demands of the mobile user faster than any other wireless solutions on the market today.
Pointing to the virtually untapped market of business travel, which accounts for 36 million travelers per year, Dayton’s statistics indicate that while 27 million of those travelers carry laptops, only seven percent of them utilize wireless Internet connectivity, relying instead on a modem line, which cannot always be found in major hotels.
The ingenuity behind Dayton’s Boingo is that it doesn’t rely on any single Wi-Fi operator or network to maintain hot spot connectivity. Instead, Boingo pays individual operators to use any given Wi-Fi hot spot location, acting more as a networking search engine for Wi-Fi nodes.
Not only does this eliminate the likelihood of a major network carrier or corporate entity controlling the Wi-Fi industry, but it levels the playing field for smaller players and entrepreneurs looking to make Wi-Fi hot spots available to Boingo’s customer base.
“No single company can control a meaningful footprint in the Wi-Fi space,” said Dayton, who added that until Boingo stepped in, Wi-Fi networking was a fragmented industry.
Boingo has so far cornered the commercial Wi-Fi market creating easy-to-use software, optional VPN security, a simple billing system of approximately $25 per month, solid customer service, and a self-updating “sniffer” software that helps a traveler or mobile user find the nearest hotel, airport, or restaurant hot spot by searching a database, which at present is expanding daily, according to Dayton.
Sniffer software can also work on 3G systems.
Unlike the uncertainty surrounding the rollout of 3G in the U.S. and whether in fact there is even a market, Boingo has moved ahead in a small and highly effective way by providing a small service for a huge market.
Dayton predicts that within the next year there will be tens of thousands of independent Wi-Fi operators across the country and throughout the world producing millions of hot spots, and that Wi-Fi will be pre-installed in laptops, personal digital assistants, cell phones, toys, and consumer electronics. Dayton is banking on the fact that Boingo will be the single driving factor connecting all of these disparate Wi-Fi hot spots.
In terms of choosing Wi-Fi over 3G, there simply is no real competition between them, says Dayton. “They need to coexist.”
Wi-Fi is an inexpensive LAN that integrates extremely high bandwidth with short-range usage, whereas 3G is a wide-area network (WAN) that provides low/medium bandwidth with long-range usage in a much higher pricing range.
“The two will eventually integrate and the results will be extremely good for the consumer,” said Dayton.