Boingo sees potential Wi-Fi expansion benefits of Charter/Time Warner Cable deal

Charter Communications' (NASDAQ: CHTR) $56.7 billion bid to buy Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) could spur more widespread Wi-Fi deployments and potentially lead to a new wireless competitor. All of that sounds like great news to Boingo Wireless CTO Derek Peterson.

Last June Time Warner Cable signed a Wi-Fi roaming agreement with Boingo that gives Time Warner customers access to more than 100 Boingo locations, including 23 U.S. airports, 36 New York City subway stations and other major venues. Boingo is hoping that Charter's acquisition of Time Warner Cable will lead to a bigger market for its Wi-Fi services, according to Wireless Week

Peterson thinks the Charter/TWC deal could lead to an expansion of services it provides for the MSO's customers.
"We're working to continue to expand our relationships with the network operators as well as the cable operators," Peterson told Wireless Week. "Whether we do a deal with Charter before the merger or after, it doesn't really matter. If we can get the Charter customers connected--we're all for it." 

Liberty Media Chairman John Malone said earlier this month the Charter/TWC deal could lead to a Wi-Fi calling service, and said the combined company could introduce a Wi-Fi-based wireless service that would compete with AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ). Liberty is Charter's largest shareholder.

As he noted, TWC was among a consortium of top cable companies that sold wireless spectrum to Verizon Wireless in 2012 for $3.9 billion. As part of that agreement, TWC, Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), Cox Communications and Bright House Networks have the option to enter into a wireless MVNO agreement with Verizon. A Wi-Fi-based calling service that also uses a major cellular network as a fallback would certainly have more reach than Cablevision's (NYSE: CVC) Wi-Fi-only Freewheel service.

"The concept that Comcast, a greatly enlarged Charter and Cox could together offer a Wi-Fi-optimized connectivity service with a default to a Verizon MVNO is interesting," Malone said.

Meanwhile, Boingo has been expanding its relationships with wireless carriers as well as cable players. In late April Sprint (NYSE: S) announced a multi-year Wi-Fi offloading agreement with Boingo to seamlessly offload its customers' data traffic to Boingo's Wi-Fi networks at 35 major U.S. airports. Under Sprint's agreement with Boingo, up to 40 million of the carrier's handsets will be able to auto-authenticate with Boingo Wi-Fi hotspot connections at no additional charge. Sprint has around 56 million total customers. Usage while connected to Wi-Fi does not count toward a customer's monthly service plan. The full list of participating airports is available here.

When asked whether LTE-Unlicensed would be a viable solution, Peterson was cautiously optimistic. "We're going to have to find ways to make it all work together, but I haven't seen LTE-U work in all the different areas where it would need to work," he said. 

The Wi-Fi Alliance has continued to express concerns about whether LTE and Wi-Fi can coexist peacefully on unlicensed spectrum. Further, the FCC, which doesn't usually get involved in standards processes, in May launched an inquiry to get input from the industry on the impact of LTE-U on other users of unlicensed spectrum.

For more:
- see this Wireless Week article

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