CEO: Boingo in discussions with ‘multiple carriers’ to densify networks

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Image: Chicago O'Hare Airport

Boingo Wireless is brimming with confidence after wrapping up a third quarter that saw the rollout of its first-ever commercial small cell network deployed with an unnamed Tier 1 carrier at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, just outside Chicago.

The company delivered what it described as a record quarter for new distributed antenna system (DAS) agreements, with the signing of eight new venues and 17 Tier 1 carrier contracts during the third quarter of 2016. Revenue from DAS increased 21.4 percent over last year’s third quarter.

While the company is celebrating the small cell rollout at the convention center in Rosemont, it’s also in discussions with multiple carriers to replace small cell networks as part of network densification strategies, CEO David Hagan said in prepared remarks during a conference call with analysts.

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“We expect small cell network deployments will play a vital role in our strategy moving forward,” he said.

RELATED: AT&T likely offloading some cellular traffic to Boingo Wi-Fi hotspots: sources

During the company’s last quarterly call, Hagan disclosed that the company was working with a second Tier 1 carrier, one that Boingo did not name but is mostly likely AT&T, according to people familiar with the situation. Those sources did not want to be named, and AT&T declined to comment at the time.

Boingo still isn’t naming the carrier, but so far, it’s now live in offloading traffic at three airports, a trend it expects will continue into 2017. The second carrier also is in the process of enabling Passpoint 2.0 across its handset base. Interestingly, Hagan said that unlike Sprint – the first carrier offload deal it announced – this second carrier is rolling out the platform to both iOS and Android handsets at the same time.

Boingo more than doubled the number of carrier contracts signed in the second quarter by closing 17 Tier 1 carrier deals in the third quarter, bringing its total year-to-date to 37.

“The strength of our DAS business demonstrates the ongoing macro trend towards network densification as a way to keep up with the exponential data demand,” Hagan said. “The next natural evolution of DAS are small cell networks which act as an extension of the macro cellular network, by providing coverage and capacity to smaller or more focused areas. Deploying small cell networks in lieu of a full DAS deployment could be a game changer in smaller venues over the economics of the DAS deployment.”

Asked about how many operators can occupy a small cell, Hagan said current technology is for single-carrier nodes. But there’s “an awful lot of work going on industry-wide from a technology perspective to get them to be multi-carrier and certainly we’ve worked with one OEM and we have them operating in our lab that is a multi-carrier, it’s kind of a plug-in module approach,” he said. “There’s a lot of R&D going into it. It's definitely going to happen.

“I don't think it will be four carriers per small cell node in the next 12 months or anything like that, but I do think we'll see two carrier nodes in market probably in the next 12 months, certainly the next 18 months,” Hagan said. “It's moving in that direction but the ones that we have deployed both in trial and then the one that we've moved to a full operating network status, those are single carrier nodes.”

Hagan gave a shout out to the Boingo team for delivering some major accomplishments over the past three years, including the launch of 18 new DAS venues, which more than doubled its DAS network, and the launch or upgrade of more than 100 carrier networks, which the company believes makes Boingo the largest provider of indoor DAS in the U.S. The company also launched high-speed Wi-Fi and IPTV on more than 50 military bases, and to date, that project encompasses more than 62,000 access points and 1,700 buildings. That’s the equivalent of building out more than 182 airports the size of Chicago O’Hare in less than three years, he said.