For Boingo, 5G is all about convergence

For Boingo Wireless, 5G is all about converged networks -- something it knows a little about, having dived head first into Wi-Fi aggregation, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and network functions virtualization (NFV).

"To us, 5G is really about converged networks. I don't think anybody has really defined it, but for us, it's really about taking all the technology and the network topologies and being able to make them all work together," Boingo Wireless CTO Derek Peterson told FierceWirelessTech on the sidelines of CTIA Super Mobility in Las Vegas.

Boingo for years has been working on DAS, Wi-Fi and it's starting pilots with small cells, so it's been in essence trying to push forward interoperability in all these different systems. Part of that includes its push for Passpoint and Hotspot 2.0, including relationships with Sprint (NYSE: S) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC).

Boingo has been working to improve the experience for consumers so they don't have a dropped call when walking from one end of an airport to another, for example, and there are challenges in making sure the call moves from one access point to another when the person is walking, including on a moving walkway, or even running. "There's been a lot of technology improvements over the last year to support that," Peterson said, such as adding density and coverage.

Boingo has locations where it has DAS, Wi-Fi and small cells all in one venue, and it's all about taking advantage of each of the technologies for the appropriate service or end-user use case. That means managing the backhaul when sharing that between the various technologies. That kind of thing has been both enjoyable and challenging, Peterson said, because a lot of vendors still sit in their own individual camps where they support one technology or the other, "and when you start trying to converge, you end up having to take all of these different vendor solutions and make them work together," he said.

He sees the situation getting better, however. "I think that there's been a big movement by vendors recently, and I think we'll see it towards the end of the year and first of next year, some real true converged gateway infrastructure platforms" that allow for taking advantage of all the technology together.

Examples of that happening already include Cisco reselling SpiderCloud's small cell portfolio and SpiderCloud developing custom small cell technology for Cisco, and Nokia Networks (NYSE:NOK) integrating Ruckus Wireless' 802.11ac technology into the Nokia Flexi Zone Small cell indoor and outdoor solutions.

Boingo has been on a tear to offer the ability to connect to Wi-Fi as easily as cellular. Earlier this year, it launched Hotspot 2.0 at 21 airports. But while Boingo is in airports, it's not extending that to the in-flight Wi-Fi business anytime soon. It's only on planes via partnerships like it has with Panasonic Aviation, with which it has a roaming relationship.

Part of the challenge with in-flight Wi-Fi -- an area that a company as big as AT&T (NYSE: T) started to get into and then backed away from -- is having enough spectrum to meet the capacity requirements and using the right technology to deliver it economically.

Boingo is a member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, which has been pushing for more collaboration between the 802.11 community and the LTE-U Forum in the development of LTE-U, which uses a version of LTE in unlicensed spectrum. Operators like Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) have said they want to deploy LTE-U in 2016.

As for the debate around LTE-U, "I think we haven't done enough testing yet," Peterson said.

"I'm all for convergence. I think the people who are working on this are smart," he said. "The challenge is trying to make sure that you don't allow one technology to basically make it so the other one doesn't work as efficiently as it was designed to do. Making sure that you don't take away from either one of their designs and capabilities is a challenge. I think we can do it, but I don't think we're there yet."

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