Boingo sees boost in venues' move away from single-carrier DAS

As more venues get fed up with single-carrier distributed antenna systems (DAS), Boingo Wireless is reaping the benefits as the venue owners or managers are opting to add Wi-Fi, thereby serving more customers.

It's part of a major trend that Boingo is seeing where venues want to augment their existing DAS networks with Wi-Fi -- and they're willing to pay for it, Boingo CEO David Hagan told investment analysts during the company's third-quarter conference call last week.

In the past, venues wanted an operator to pay for the cost and operation of the DAS network but also frequently wanted to offer free Wi-Fi to their guests. That created a tough economic model and caused Boingo to go into projects leading with DAS because the carriers would pay for it. "Now what we're seeing from venues is an understanding that they have to invest in the customer experience or risk losing out on business," Hagan said.

Hagan described a scenario whereby a venue bought a DAS several years ago with the expectation that it would service all their guests. However, as it turned out, the DAS typically was only serving one carrier -- it's not a neutral host system -- so the venue's guests of only that one carrier are getting great service while customers of the other carriers sometimes are not even able to text, update social media or make a phone call while attending special events like concerts or sports.

"So the venue sees the opportunity to go with Wi-Fi because it's universal," he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. "It's cross-carrier, it's all devices and so it gets them out of the clutches of the carrier in that scenario and that's what we've been seeing repeated over and over in these RFPs."

Boingo has 22 DAS venues deployed representing 10,300 live nodes and another 24 venues under contract that are in the design, build or carrier contract process.

Boingo says it is the only neutral host company with deep domain experience in DAS and Wi-Fi, and adding Wi-Fi to the DAS-only venues can lead to more carrier offload. Boingo continues to work on offload agreements with carriers outside of Sprint (NYSE: S), with which it announced a deal earlier this year, but Hagan said there was nothing to announce.

The multi-year Wi-Fi offloading agreement with Sprint initially callled for seamlessly offloading Sprint's customers' data traffic to Boingo's Wi-Fi networks at 35 major U.S. airports.

Sprint iPhone customers are now auto-connecting via Passpoint onto Boingo's network, and with the launch of iOS 9, Boingo is extending its Passpoint connectivity to more than 12 million Sprint iOS users at airports, he said.

Hagan said the company is encouraged by news that Comcast is closer to launching a wireless service similar to Google's Project Fi, where it might actually compete with the incumbent wireless operators. "We see that as a very good sign" and other cable companies will probably follow, he said. "That's all just good energy around Wi-Fi becoming the priority network, if you will, with cellular as a backup in between hotspots, the Wi-Fi first kind of approach."

For more:
- see this Seeking Alpha transcript (reg. req.)

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