Boingo Bets on VOIP

CHICAGO – Supercomm – Hotspot startup Boingo Wireless Inc. is betting that wireless LAN will become a hot item for cellphones within the next couple of years and that it will be able to make seamless roaming between 802.11 and 3G networks a reality.

Meeting with Unstrung today at the massive Supercomm tradeshow, Boingo's president David Hagan laid out his firm's strategy for allowing fast, unobtrusive transfers between WiFi and cellular networks in both consumer and corporate environments (see Voice Over 802.11: Talkin' Loud; Sayin' Something? for more on the voice-over-WLAN technology).

Hagan reckons the demand for integration between separate wireless networks will be driven, in part, by wired and wireless carriers that want to cut costs by implementing VOIP on their networks.

For carriers currently providing cable/DSL and other wireline services, VOIP is seen as a mechanism that will allow them to inexpensively offer voice services. "The broadband carriers love it," says Hagan.

Meanwhile – while wireless carriers are more leery of cannibalizing their existing market – Hagan reckons that the move to flat-rate pricing on 3G networks will mean that these carriers will also adopt more VOIP services. "They are looking at ways of cutting their costs," Hagan opines.

Boingo has taken on ex-Openwaver Ted Wugofski as director of device products to help with the network integration strategy.

Wugofski says that, to implement the strategy, Boingo will help to get its signal sniffing software (which detects what network offers the best connection) on chipset drivers, get the relevant middleware installed in carrier networks, and work with device manufacturers to ensure that its user-interface software is on the phones.

Wugofski says that Boingo is talking with chipset manufacturers, device makers, and carriers now. He says that the firm has been working with major players such as Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) developing wireless LAN-cellular combo chipsets.

"We have reference designs from the chipset manufacturers," Wugofski offers, but he's not saying which ones yet.

The company hopes that eventually this work will add up to a system that allows the user to seamlessly move among different networks without them even being aware of it.

"The interest is there now," says Wugofski. "It's possible there may be trials in 2005... but I don't suspect we'll see volumes until 2006 or 2007."

All in all, these tasks may seem like a tall order for a small company. After all, major players such as Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) have outlined similar concepts, but no single company has really pulled off an integration play like this yet (see Motorola Plots WLAN VOIP Move and Nortel's Roaming Action).

Hagan, however, says the idea builds on what his company already does in working with carriers and vendors to enable WLAN-equiped laptops to gain wireless access to separate hotspot networks.

"Someone's got to do it, right?" says Hagan. "If we didn't do it, you might look back in two or three years' time and ask: 'Why not? They had all the elements in place, they were just too focused on the laptops.' " — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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