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Private equity, tower companies could buy Boingo – analysts

Boingo's management has reportedly hung a "for sale" sign atop the company's offices and is now waiting for the offers to roll in.

And, according to some industry analysts, there's a good chance that some of the nation's major tower companies – such as Crown Castle or American Tower – might make a bid.

Bloomberg reported that unnamed buyers have approached Boingo's management with purchase offers. Citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation, the publication noted the company is now working with an unidentified adviser to explore its options. Bloomberg specifically noted that Boingo could attract interest from private equity firms, infrastructure funds or strategic buyers.

Bloomberg added that Boingo's management hadn't made any decisions, and the company could ultimately remain independent.

Several analysts – including Roger Entner of Recon Analytics and Ken Rehbehn of Critical Communications – said that US cell tower companies, including American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA Communications, might make an offer for the company.

They added that other small cell and wireless network installation companies like ExteNet Systems – which is backed by investment giant Digital Colony – might also make a play for Boingo.

The bulk of Boingo's revenues are tied up in building WiFi and cellular networks on military bases, airports and other large venues. Although Boingo initially made a name for itself selling WiFi access to consumers in public venues – indeed, the company's stock ticker symbol is "WIFI" – much of Boingo's business has shifted away from the retail market. The company's now well known in the industry for installing and managing wireless networks for venues like airports or indoor distributed antenna systems (DASs) for cellular operators like Verizon.

As such, Boingo's business model lines up relatively closely to those of tower companies like Crown Castle, which build and manage macro cell towers and small cells for cellular network operators like AT&T and Verizon.

However, according to analyst John Byrne with GlobalData, the global nature of Boingo's efforts could complicate the company's sale. "While most of their DAS business is in the US, their WiFi hotspot network is most prevalent in Asia – 3x as many hotspots as in North America," he wrote in response to questions from Light Reading.

For example, Boingo recently touted its WiFi network for London's Heathrow Airport.

"It's hard to envision a single buyer being interested in all of those assets," Byrne explained. "Given that the stock has fallen so far from its peak, I could also envision a private equity buyer coming in and trying to maximize the value of the individual parts."

Boingo's shares recently fell to lows the company hadn't seen since 2016, developments that coincided with the company trimming 16% of its workforce.

Byrne acknowledged that there are a few communications infrastructure companies with global ambitions. For example, American Tower has been purchasing cell towers in Africa, while SBA has been active in Brazil recently. And ExteNet's Digital Colony is allied with Colony Capital, and those two investment firms have backed telecom deals stretching from UK to Canada to Brazil.

Light Reading has reached out to Boingo and will update this story when the company replies.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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