Boingo gets certified on iOS in Sprint offload deal

Boingo Wireless CEO David Hagan says it is now certified by Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) on iOS for Sprint (NYSE: S), putting Boingo's Wi-Fi offload technology on another approximately 12 million handsets with Sprint, adding to around 10 million Android handsets it's already on.


So far, Boingo has just the one Wi-Fi offload deal with Sprint, but it's working with other carriers. Wi-Fi offload works by putting connections on Wi-Fi to relieve congestion on cellular networks, and the carrier pays Boingo on a per-megabyte basis.

The company earlier had predicted that iOS certification would come later this year, but it came earlier than expected, Hagan said during the Craig-Hallum Alpha Select investor conference in New York.

Sprint will work on its next profile push to get it out to its Apple base of customers. Hagan said he's often asked when Boingo will get carriers 2, 3 and 4. "We're working on it," he said. "No news on that front but we've got a lot of lab work," and an "incredible amount" of work is going on with the merging of Wi-Fi and cellular. "We're right in the middle of that," he said, adding that it's the kind of work that has to get done before a market launch. "It's all the same stuff we were doing with Sprint 18 months ago," he said of the company's work with other carriers.

He noted that a lot of engineering and development is going on in smaller cells. "The challenge is they're not multi-carrier," he added. The carriers love them because they're cheaper than distributed antenna systems (DAS), but the venues often prefer a neutral host strategy where they can accommodate more than one carrier, so "the carrier need and the venue need are on a bit of a crash course there," he said. What will solve that is when multiple carriers are in small cells, which is being worked on.

Interestingly, he said Boingo is involved in small cell trials with two different carriers; one is on a military base and the other is at a sports/entertainment venue. "We are dipping our toe into it," he said, adding that "it's a great opportunity for us" as the technology develops and evolves.

Social media is often cited as a wireless data hog, and one of those being talked about lately is Periscope, with consumers using it to share live video. Stadiums and arenas are freaking out that people are now going to be livestreaming unedited video all on, all the time, he said. That's just another example of why there's a need to densify networks.

Indoor DAS is the largest part of Boingo's business, yet wireless operators are not always keen on DAS because it can be expensive. But he said the DAS business is white hot right now and Boingo has as much business as it can handle there. The company signed more than 30 contracts for DAS in the first half of this year.

A year ago in the third quarter, AT&T (NYSE: T) pulled back on capex, and that reverberated throughout the market at the tower companies and elsewhere. The DAS market always has been driven by AT&T and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) -- "until the world changed last fall," Hagan said. "We used that as an opportunity. It's created a really good dynamic" among the carriers to do these kind of deals. He expects the third quarter to be as robust as the DAS business was in the first half of the year. "The momentum there continues."

As for the cable guys, "we see the cable companies as great partners," he said, with roaming agreements with the cable companies that have substantially built out their Wi-Fi. Boingo customers, for example, can use Time Warner Cable's Wi-Fi and vice versa.

T-Mobile US' (NYSE:TMUS) recent Wi-Fi offload project with Bright House Networks is encouraging as well, as it shows that T-Mobile is embracing Wi-Fi offload, and cable companies are well positioned in a Wi-Fi first world. "I would expect some of the cable cos are going to do a Wi-Fi first phone to add to their bundle," he said, adding that, with all the M&A going on, that needs to settle in before they get back to how they're going to go to market.

As for the debate around LTE-U in unlicensed spectrum, Hagan said he believes the issues are going to get solved, but the challenge right now is interference. LTE-U uses a combination of licensed and unlicensed spectrum. "I think everybody wants to solve it. I don't think it's going to damage the Wi-Fi business" once the solutions are found.

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