Boingo CTO calls on industry to be more disruptive

SAN MATEO, Calif.--Noting the "uncarrier" moves by operators like T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) that already are making waves, Boingo CTO Derek Peterson told attendees here at the Wi-Fi Innovation Summit that he would like to see more disruption like that from the industry.

The "Wi-Fi First" world continues to evolve, and "it's been Wi-Fi First for Boingo for a while," he said, noting that while T-Mobile US was at the confab as the "uncarrier," Boingo, at least for the day, was appearing as the "Wi-Fi only" carrier in the program's agenda notes.

When it comes to innovation, "there's iterative innovation and then there's disruptive innovation," he said. A lot of what's been going on in Wi-Fi since 2001, when Boingo got involved, has been iterative, trying to figure out how to make it all work. "It was aggregating locations, it was enterprise, it was trying hotspot in a box," he added.

"Right now, what's fun is we're in a disruptive" era, he said, noting the deals Boingo has with the likes of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) that marked the industry's first bilateral roaming agreement.

Rob Cerbone, vice president, wireless product management and marketing at TWC, and Josh Lonn, senior director of communications services at T-Mobile, were also on the panel session with Peterson.

"Now's the time to disrupt because we have that upside curve path," he said. "My challenge to all of us… because we're all Wi-Fi people in this room and we do a bunch of other stuff, it's really time to be that disruptive agent and really push the envelope. I love what T-Mobile's doing, being disruptive, Time Warner, other carriers we're working with. I love the disruption that we're having and I think it's time to just keep pushing that."

Southern California-based Boingo now has more than 140 relationships with different operators throughout the world, and in 2006, "we realized we couldn't get the larger players to play with us because we didn't own a network," he said.

Even though it had great relationships with smaller operators running hotels or other small venues, the company decided to acquire Concourse Communications and took over Sprint's Wi-Fi, OptiWi-Fi, and started focusing on building distributed antenna systems (DAS) networks. It got its start in the airport business starting primarily with Chicago and New York, and it's grown that business to include sponsorships and advertising.

Boingo's goal is to have 80 percent of the people who walk through a venue, like an airport, to connect to the Wi-Fi network and for the venue to benefit from it. "We've done a horrible job as an industry" in allowing the physical and digital worlds to connect, relying on apps like FourSquare and others instead of recognizing the network has powerful information to report back to those venues. "It's our responsibility as network guys ... to bridge that gap."

"We're trying to be disruptive," he added, and to get to that 80 percent, it needs to continue being creative and doing what it takes to make it work better for not only the carriers but Time Warner, American Express and others who want to get involved.

In Austin, Texas, Boingo worked with the airport to set up better communications for the TSA so that it could more efficiently schedule staff during busy periods. Now it's hoping to make a solution available to the app community so that passengers can get a better idea on wait times and act accordingly to avoid the longest lines through security.

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