Boingo Wireless’ new CEO Mike Finley has worked at several wireless operators, starting with McCaw Cellular. His career took him to Cellular One, AirTouch Cellular, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Nextel.
Now, about three months into his new position at Boingo, he’s finding that experience useful, as Boingo does a lot of work to support carriers on the distributed antenna systems (DAS) front, in addition to Wi-Fi offloading.
While changes in the industry might lead one to think the future of DAS is questionable, Finley said that’s not the case. In fact, “I don’t see DAS doing anything but growing,” he told FierceWirelessTech.
In the first quarter of 2019, Boingo reported DAS revenue of $24.1 million, a slight increase of 1.9% year-over-year. Late last year, the company notched a couple big wins: It was selected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of New York to design, build and operate wireless services for the Long Island Rail Road Atlantic branch and Grand Central Terminal East Side Access facility, representing two of its largest DAS venue agreements ever.
In the area of Wi-Fi offloading, Boingo has announced deals with Sprint and AT&T, and it continues to say it’s not a matter of if but when the other two carriers join the party. With the explosion of data that’s underway, Finley said he’s confident demands for Boingo’s services will continue to grow.
“We do Wi-Fi, we do cellular and we bring it all together,” he said. “The data explosion, which continues to happen, and I think will continue to grow with 5G, is really good for us, but we’re also well-positioned to support our partners and making that happen.”
Boingo participates in groups like the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), CBRS Alliance (CBRS), CTIA, GSMA, Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and the MulteFire Alliance, but it’s mostly technology neutral.
“We view ourselves as a neutral connectivity company, so we work with all the operators on the cellular licensed side and we’ve done Wi-Fi for basically the whole existence of Wi-Fi,” he said. “We look at CBRS as another opportunity where we can provide great connectivity to both our end users and our partners.”
Boingo’s deployments, which now include military bases and multi-dwelling units (MDUs), are almost exclusively indoors, and when you look at big venues like airports and stadiums, it’s essentially boosting the services of the operators, he said. Acting as a neutral host, it can support all four nationwide carriers in a venue, or each one individually.
The MDU sector, which it entered with the acquisition last year of Elauwit Networks, represents another growth area, and property owners are getting on board, he said. “These property owners really want to provide great service to their users,” he said. In fact, tenants want broadband access—connectivity for everything—on Day 1 when they move in. “It’s not a matter that they’re requesting it, they’re demanding it.”
Interestingly, Finley served as president of North America and Australia for Qualcomm, two regions that from a carrier perspective are almost identical, he said. The wireless networks are managed similarly, standing at the forefront of technology and driving device requirements. Major carriers in Australia include Telstra, Vodafone and Optus. Last year, Telstra launched the world’s first Gigabit-class LTE network with the help of Qualcomm, supporting 2 Gbps download speeds.
Qualcomm is big in the cellular chip business, but it also makes Wi-Fi solutions. While the industry tends to think of licensed and cellular when it comes to 5G, Finley said Wi-Fi continues to evolve and accelerate. Wi-Fi 6 is coming—and it’s already here in a lot of ways; the Samsung Galaxy S10 supports it. Boingo also has been involved in a successful Wi-Fi 6 trial at John Wayne Airport.
When 5G is added to the licensed side and Wi-Fi 6 on the unlicensed side, along with more spectrum in the pipeline, the two flavors of technology both will be in demand. “End users just want to be connected,” and they don’t necessarily think in terms of licensed or unlicensed, he said.
So, are there any implications for Boingo if the Sprint/T-Mobile merger does or doesn’t happen? “Not really,” Finley said. Whether they’re operating separately or together, Boingo will be there to serve.