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

AT&T supports Wi-Fi calling on the iPhone and other smartphones.

AT&T is likely offloading some of its cellular traffic to Boingo’s Wi-Fi network, according to sources familiar with the companies’ plans.

Boingo CEO David Hagan last week announced that an unnamed “tier 1 carrier” had joined Sprint as a Boingo Wi-Fi offloading customer. “We are now live in offloading traffic at a major U.S. airport and are working with them to develop a roll out schedule,” Hagan said of Boingo’s second Wi-Fi offloading customer, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of his remarks. “Like our Sprint deployment, we expect it will take several months to complete a full roll out but we are excited to be underway.”

Executives from both AT&T and Boingo declined to comment when questioned on the topic by FierceWireless. However, according to people familiar with the situation who asked not to be named, AT&T is likely Boingo’s new offloading customer.

A teaming between Boingo and AT&T has precedent. The companies in 2013 inked a global Wi-Fi roaming agreement that gave AT&T’s customers access to Boingo’s global network of Wi-Fi hotspots. At the time, AT&T said its “Wi-Fi International App” would allow customers on applicable data global packages access up to 1 GB of Wi-Fi each month at no additional charge.

Then, last year, the companies announced they had worked together to improve cellular coverage at Soldier Field in Chicago by jointly designing an outdoor Distributed Antenna System (DAS).

Further, AT&T has long dabbled in Wi-Fi, from its purchase of Wi-Fi hotspot provider Wayport in 2008 to the 30,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots it operates today. The company also recently launched Wi-Fi calling services for some of its smartphone users.

Current Analysis analyst Emma Mohr-McClune explained that wireless carriers are likely looking for any leg up they can get on the competition, particularly as the performance gaps narrow among the nation’s competing LTE networks. An AT&T agreement with Boingo could improve AT&T customers' experiences in airports and elsewhere.

Analyst Mark Lowenstein, managing director of Mobile Ecosystem, added that AT&T may be looking to ease the strain on its cellular network by offloading traffic to a nearby Wi-Fi network.

But 556 Ventures analyst William Ho pointed out that “VZ and AT&T in general want their users to consume more data and upgrade data buckets. Offloading counters that.”

Interestingly, Hagan said in its comments on Boingo’s earnings call that the company would be working to improve Wi-Fi offloading with new technology. “In addition to Passpoint authentication, we are also going to explore an additional technical approach to seamless handoff that they requested called Layer Two network integration,” he said of Boingo’s new customer. “This allows a carrier to enable Wi-Fi offload without being beholden to the device manufacturer. We're still big supporters of Passpoint because it scales better at an industry level, but see this as potentially attractive alternative to some carriers.”

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