AT&T has expanded its roaming agreement with Boingo Wireless to include more than 80 venues, including major airports, military bases and other places that have Boingo’s Passpoint-certified networks.
The announcement provides a boost to Boingo, which routinely has been asked about the status of U.S. wireless operators using its networks, with executives usually reluctant to name names. But AT&T acknowledged it’s all part of its network management strategy.
“Boingo’s Passpoint footprint allows us to connect millions in more locations than ever, making it easier for travelers and troops to talk, text and stream over Wi-Fi,” said JR Wilson, vice president of tower strategy and roaming, AT&T, in a press release. “The move is part of AT&T’s strategic network management initiatives that help accommodate rising mobile data traffic.”
AT&T said data traffic on its mobile network has grown more than 470,000% since 2007, with video making up half of its mobile data traffic. By 2022, the company estimates video could make up more than 75% of AT&T’s mobile traffic driven by growth in 4K video, autonomous cars, drones, VR/AR and mobile gaming.
Wi-Fi roaming on Boingo’s Passpoint-certified networks is available to AT&T subscribers at no additional charge. Passpoint is a standardized hotspot technology that automates secure roaming between AT&T cellular and Boingo Wi-Fi networks for better customer experiences, offering fast speeds as well as public Wi-Fi encryption with two-way authentication.
Boingo has been doing Wi-Fi roaming for a number of years with AT&T, so it’s a continuation of that relationship. But as AT&T noted in the press release, the operator is clearly making Wi-Fi roaming a part of its core strategy to deal with mobile data growth, and that’s what’s appealing to Boingo Chairman and CEO David Hagan.
“It’s a pretty significant expansion from the number of venues that they were on before,” he told FierceWirelessTech. It basically means AT&T has moved beyond the “handful of venues” and onto the entire Boingo network where it has Passpoint enabled, which is pretty much all of its venues except a couple of smaller remote locations with older gear that will eventually be upgraded.
Sprint was the first to do Passpoint roaming on the Boingo network, and it’s also on the majority of its network. But for many quarters running, Hagan was asked during earnings calls about the “unnamed Carrier No. 2,” which a lot of analysts had guessed was AT&T, but he couldn’t reveal that.
Passpoint is the brand for the certification program operated by Wi-Fi Alliance, and Passpoint certification is based on the Wi-Fi Alliance Hotspot 2.0 specification. It was developed with support from the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) to make the Wi-Fi experience more like cellular.
AT&T’s Wilson is currently chairman of the WBA board and Boingo CTO Derek Peterson is the co-chairman. The WBA helps lead ongoing research, trials and deployments for Passpoint and other wireless technologies to drive coexistence between licensed and unlicensed networks.
AT&T, which found itself in an unfortunate predicament when the first iPhone took off and its network was overburdened with traffic, has been at the forefront of offloading mobile data traffic onto Wi-Fi. It purchased Wi-Fi hotspot provider Wayport in 2008 to expand its Wi-Fi footprint by adding thousands of hotspots.
Editor's note: This article was updated on Feb. 20 with additional commentary.