As much of the industry gets ready to celebrate what’s become of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5 GHz band, Boingo Wireless Chairman and CEO David Hagan took the opportunity during the company’s third-quarter conference call to note a couple key achievements in which his company has been involved.
The company, which reported a 21.6% revenue increase for the third quarter, is currently testing several new 5G technologies, and the CBRS trial at Dallas Love Field in Texas—the first known CBRS deployment at a major U.S. airport—has been upgraded from a Special Temporary Authority (STA) status to an initial commercial deployment status by the FCC, he said.
“We believe this technical demonstration is an important step forward for the wireless industry as this shared spectrum technology will help accommodate connectivity in the 5G era,” he said, noting that CBRS took a big step forward in the third quarter when Federated Wireless filed an application with the FCC for a commercial deployment with a broad mix of mobile operators, cable operators and wireless ISPs.
If approved, initial deployments could be underway next month. “We think this is incredibly positive for Boingo as it enables ongoing product and market expansion,” he said.
Large public venues—the kind where Boingo provides services—are early and strong candidates for CBRS deployments because they’re often dense, high-trafficked areas. Wireless operators, neutral host providers like Boingo or venues themselves will be able to use CBRS to enhance coverage.
Asked during the Q&A portion of the call to comment on the overall revenue opportunity over the next, say, three-plus years—given upcoming 5G, small cell densification, more complex RF environments and CBRS deployments—Hagan said he wasn’t prepared to provide an immediate forecast on exact percentages, but he would “absolutely” expect increased revenue per venue that Boingo serves.
The trial that Federated Wireless is conducting—one that involves many partners, including Boingo—is really designed to make sure that from an FCC perspective, the industry can manage the spectrum, both licensed and unlicensed, in a way that’s fair for all participants and in a way that conforms to what the FCC has constructed.
“It’s a market test of the back-office technology, less about the end-user technology like what we’re doing at Dallas Love Field,” he said. “As an industry, CBRS has to get past that kind of a trial” for the FCC to give it the green light, “but we’re really excited about that.”
Again, CBRS is really interesting because for the first time, it involves shared spectrum, he said. The industry has always had licensed and unlicensed spectrum, “and now we have something in between.” Carriers can deploy it, but so can third-party neutral host operators like Boingo, as well as venues on their own. An enterprise that wants better coverage in their building can add CBRS.
“We think it’s going to be both a top-down-driven technology the way traditional licensed spectrum is, but also a market bottom-up approach the way that Wi-Fi on the unlicensed side has developed over the last 15 years,” he said. “All good news there, a lot of excitement around it. The business impact of it won’t be seen even much in 2019, look forward in 2020, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of work going on.”
Boingo’s growth in the third quarter was driven by strength in its military/multifamily, wholesale Wi-Fi and Distributed Antenna System (DAS) businesses. Oppenheimer analysts commented that along with solid growth, Boingo has a lot of moving parts. It will benefit from 5G small cell densification, as well as the build of CBRS spectrum. Concerns are that DAS revenue growth continues to slow, though it’s still 12.2% year over year.