Boingo reveals Wi-Fi offload market trial with top tier operator involving 'millions of handsets'

The Wi-Fi industry has been talking about carriers using Wi-Fi to address network capacity issues for seven or eight years now, but now it's getting real, with Boingo Wireless disclosing that it's conducting a market trial with a top tier U.S. operator.

In Boingo's third-quarter earnings conference call, CEO David Hagan said Boingo is not naming the carrier per the operator's request and while it is just a trial, it is a big one, involving millions of handsets activated for Wi-Fi offload onto Boingo's network.

"These devices are beginning to generate significant megabytes of data offload at select Boingo hotspots across the country," he said during the earnings call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of his remarks. "We anticipate that this carrier will continue to expand both the number of activated handsets and the number of hotspots being used in 2015."

Hagan noted that there was a tide change in the third quarter in terms of carriers' willingness to use Wi-Fi to address network capacity issues. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) used Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 6 launch to showcase Wi-Fi calling support across all flagship devices, and in short order, all of the major U.S. carriers announced some intent to support Wi-Fi calling as well. "We believe this shows that carriers are beginning to embrace Wi-Fi networks as part of their overall service package," he said.

Over the last couple of years, Boingo upgraded many of its hotspots to be 802.11ac or ac ready, he said. Earlier this year, Boingo was the first Wi-Fi operator to roll out PassPoint-enabled hotspots and make that experience available to consumers. The company's recently announced new smart network design "completely reimagines how we build networks to optimize user experience," he said.

The market trial is part of a deal the company signed about a year ago, he said. Boingo has signed deals with three of the top four carriers and it's been strategic about focusing on getting its Wi-Fi into large venues that have the biggest network congestion problems, so when carriers are ready for Wi-Fi offload, Boingo is in a position to capture that.

"The exciting thing about this trial is the user doesn't have to do anything," he said. "The carrier is pushing out a profile to the user, and then it is just like what we've talked about in terms of HotSpot 2.0 and PassPoint, even though technically that's not the technology used in this trial, it's what we will evolve to, but it's automatic connect. So the carrier's customer walks into one of our venues, their phone automatically connects onto our Wi-Fi network, the carrier pays us for that traffic on our network, for whatever that customer then does from a data consumption perspective… This is truly, what I would call carrier offload. The consumer doesn't have to do anything to make it work."

Boingo also announced that the company's high-speed Internet services now cover more than 100,000 beds across 21 United States Marine Corps, Air Force and Army bases worldwide.

It's the single largest deployment in the company's history, with more than 25,000 access points installed across more than 500 buildings using about 400 miles of cable. From an equipment perspective, it's roughly equivalent to deploying to more than 80 airports the size of Chicago's O'Hare International.

Boingo Wi-Fi and digital TV products are portable from one base to another. As users are redeployed to another location, their Boingo account can be used at any base where Boingo is available.

For more:
- listen to the webcast
- see this press release and this release
- see this Seeking Alpha transcript (reg. req.)

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