Boingo Wireless sees flurry of activity around small cells

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Boingo Broadband high-speed Wi-Fi and IPTV services covered 318,000 beds on 59 military bases as of March 31.

Coming off another strong quarter, Boingo Wireless is enjoying a time when all three segments of its business—distributed antenna systems (DAS), wholesale Wi-Fi and military bases—are growing revenue more than 35% compared to just a year ago.

But where it’s really seeing action is in small cells. All four major U.S. wireless carriers are knocking on its doors for the indoor venues it can offer.

“It’s really exciting to see the carriers talking about small cells in a big way,” Boingo Wireless CEO David Hagan said during the Jeffries Technology Group investor conference Wednesday. Whereas DAS deployments can take up to two years from venue acquisition to actually negotiating and getting an anchor carrier and going live, it’s kind of the opposite situation with small cells.

“On small cells, they’re calling on us, and others, other partners, but they’re calling on us saying we want to deploy thousands of small cells, how can you help us? So we then go right into: here’s our venue portfolio, from military bases to stadiums to transportation hubs and a few things in between, and let’s talk about what makes sense for small cells. And it’s not ‘let’s deploy hundreds,’ it’s ‘let’s deploy thousands’ and that’s across the board, that’s all four carriers, they are just completely focused on rapid deployment of small cells and we’ve got some great assets for them to target. The military bases are extremely interesting to them.”

Related: Boingo records another strong quarter for DAS venues, ending Q1 with 10,500 nodes in backlog

Most military bases are somewhat in rural locations and cell service is typically very bad, and “we could do small cell deployments leveraging the Wi-Fi infrastructure that we have and getting great cell coverage on those bases. So super high energy around small cells,” he said.

“We’re way ahead of our internal plan on where we thought we’d be with military,” Hagan added. “That business is working really well.”

There are still more barracks to cover. “The interesting thing about the military business, different than if we were doing apartment buildings or something, is that these are true communities and they all talk, and so I think what you see and the benefit that we’re getting is that we are becoming, not have become, becoming the preferred provider on these military bases,” so when new soldiers comes in and want to know who to sign up with for internet service, they can just open up their laptop or device and sign on with Boingo and have internet in two minutes versus calling a cable company or other provider.

“Because we think we have the right product for that community, we’ll continue to grow our penetration”—not as rapidly as the past couple years but there’s still growth there as well, he said.

Related: Boingo in discussions with ‘multiple carriers’ for small cell deployments: CEO

The company delivered one of the largest venue acquisition quarters in its history with the signing of 17 new DAS venues in the first quarter. The venues include five Hawaiian airports, the new Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco and nine PATH stations in New York.  

Operators report ongoing problems in their ability to get small cells sited in municipalities across the country, and that’s one thing Boingo doesn’t do is the outdoor deployments.

“Our business is focused on indoor, so once we have the wireless rights within that venue, there’s no other hurdles that we have to go through, other than just working with the carrier, getting a network designed and getting it deployed, but we don’t have approvals from municipalities or any of those things," Hagan said.

“Outdoor is in inherently more challenging and there are horror stories over the years of companies trying to deploy network technology outdoors,” whether it’s on the side of a building or poles, “it’s hard.” From that perspective, “we don’t have those challenges.”