Carrier WiFi

Boingo: Carrier WiFi Offload Still a Year Out

Despite doing a big wholesale business with the network operators, the head of the WiFi service provider Boingo isn't convinced most have a real WiFi offload strategy yet.

Rather, many wireless operators are stuck in phase one of WiFi offload, building distributed antenna systems (DAS), according to Boingo Wireless Inc. CEO David Hagan. He told analysts at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference this week that carrier offload strategies, or diverting cellular traffic to unlicensed spectrum to alleviate network congestion, are still a year or so from fruition.

Among the big four US wireless operators, Hagan said, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) are the most active in DAS, but getting one of them in a network deployment almost guarantees you get the other. "They are hyper competitive about their competitor having a better user experience in major venues." Working with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US Inc. requires more effort, but Boingo averages three carriers per DAS network it deploys. (See Carrier WiFi's Not Winning in Sports Arenas.)

That's where most of the operators are today, even if they tend to devote more time to talking about their offload strategies. Phase two is actual offload to WiFi, which Hagan said is coming, though operators will give an obtuse answer as to when. "They don't have clear strategies. Depending on which department we talk to, they have different perspectives -- some are bullish, some are not. To me, that says it's going to be another year or so before it comes to fruition."

Given how slowly he expects pure and simple offload to take off, it's easy to see why he thinks Hotspot 2.0 will take even longer. Boingo has been an early mover there. It has tested the authentication technology in 21 airports across the US, but Hagan said that, even though the technology is ready, it's -- again -- a matter of getting the operators ready. Following a productive Mobile World Congress, he thinks a number of carriers will practice with a subset of their customers soon, but deployments could be a year to 18 months away. (See Boingo Expands Hotspot 2.0 to 21 Airports and Hotspot 2.0 Makes Slow & Steady Progress.)

"It'll take one rabbit, one first mover, then the whole market will move," he said. "We can do side bets on who we think the first mover will be. But, even from a carrier perspective, I don't think it's a question of if, but when."

Hagan said that Boingo has significant DAS agreements with all four of the big carriers. It has WiFi offload deals with three of the four -- including AT&T, which has been an aggressive early mover -- and a new deal with Verizon. He identified the biggest hurdles with all the operators as the need to map out their corporate strategies and figure out if they bundle WiFi access with data plans, make it incremental revenue, or offer free access. (See AT&T: Hotspot 2.0 Integral to Multimode Small Cells.)

"They need to work through the mechanics and marketing strategy with what they want to do with WiFi, but everything else is set," he said.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

COMMENTS Add Comment
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Sarah Thomas 3/23/2014 | 11:12:41 AM
Re: Re : Boingo: Carrier WiFi Offload Still a Year Out Using policy at the app level, operators can automatically move some types of content, like video, to WiFi. They can do the same thing with LTE-U -- decide when a form of content might need both WiFi and LTE or just one or the other. I think this is mainly for consumers who just use LTE all the time. They can decide to always default to WiFi, but if they don't, opreators can use policy to dictate when they do, at least that's how I understand it.
SachinEE 3/23/2014 | 4:08:07 AM
Re : Boingo: Carrier WiFi Offload Still a Year Out @ Dan, yes hopefully, but you never know considering the strange ways and places in which people are seen using smart phones for all the purposes. Anyway you have a point here about videos. But I have a question. How can they move just videos to Wifi? I mean, will it not tempt users to use something that is free for all their purposes?
mendyk 3/20/2014 | 3:05:22 PM
Re: Re : Boingo: Carrier WiFi Offload Still a Year Out You've identified the big issue regarding mobile operators and wi-fi. Mobile operators have used wi-fi as a way to keep customers happy while high-bandwidth services are being built out. But once 4G etc. is in place, wi-fi becomes almost a liability from the point of view of maximizing data service revenues. This is especially true now that in the minds of most users, "free" and "wi-fi" are forever joined. So mobile carriers now need to figure out a way to build some wi-fi charges into their data service contracts. It won't be easy.
SachinEE 3/20/2014 | 2:52:32 PM
Re : Boingo: Carrier WiFi Offload Still a Year Out It is quite perplexing why network carriers would provide for Wifi on their networks. They have their own data networks to offer to the customers. Would it not be like an axe to their own business? Everyone would like to use free Wifi instead of paying for data services to carriers.
mendyk 3/13/2014 | 8:27:23 AM
Re: It's a thin line ... Not sure I can hit all the "missing somethings," but this is a much more complex issue than cutting a handoff deal with a wi-fi provider. For one thing, there can be hundreds of wi-fi providers, and some (or many) of them are not that interested in bringing mobile operators into their activities. The bigger issue is that the wi-fi genie is out of the bottle. No one entity is going to control it. And free wi-fi has been around long enough that charging for service is going to be difficult.
Mitch Wagner 3/12/2014 | 11:56:57 PM
Re: It's a thin line ... Yes, but the mobile operator can cut a handoff deal with the WiFi provider and get a piece of the action. Or am I missing something?
ClausHetting 3/12/2014 | 10:34:23 PM
Great discussion here What an excellent discussion. I'm thrilled that 'offload' is getting some attention. OK - so even though I'm a champion of the word itself, I do agree that it's not a good one (agree with Gabriel). All the many (some of them seriously disruptive) opportunities deserve a better term. I intend to be launching such a term soon, btw :-)

Wi-Fi is actually a very complex landscape. But I also believe that Wi-Fi with carrier involvement will take on several forms in the coming years. One form will be Hotspot 2.0, but it don't think it's will the only one. The belief that Wi-Fi needs one specific interoperability standard in order to be a mass market success is a traditional mobile-centric (or carrier-centric) point of view because carriers love standards. Part of the beauty of Wi-Fi as a technology is that it's wide open as a technology.

In my view to essential pieces of technology are needed: Something to aggregate, and something for seamlessness. This can be done in various ways - and it already is. I'd also like to point out that the opportunities in Wi-Fi are not a 'zero sum game'. We're dealing with massive demand for wireless services that can - and will - be fulfilled by various companies and with many technical methods some of which will be proprietary. 

My current view is succesful 'carrier Wi-Fi' needs to be addressed through a combination of monetization strategies of which offload is just one. LBS, location analytics, content, ads, social media, etc. etc. are all a part of this picture. 

If you want to know more, mark your calendars for June 18th and 19th in Palo Alto: The WilFi Offload Summit. We'll be discussing all of this and more. Join us :-)
Gabriel Brown 3/11/2014 | 6:58:51 PM
Re: Carrier WiFi I agree with you, I think. In general, residential WiFi is preferable (cheaper and faster) than 3G or 4G. And, pretty clearly, that's what people use.

Whatsapp Messaging is trivial from a data consumption perspective. Whatsapp Voice might be a bit more noticeable.
macster 3/11/2014 | 5:45:11 PM
Re: Carrier WiFi Re. chart, it's no different to Vodafone's Best Connected. As I mentioned in another thread, there is "conflict of interest", as I just can't see how one's favourite or home WiFi being at the top of the stack is beneficial to the operator.

Two points will always prove true with consumers. (1) Cost. (2) Perception of better bandwidth. Consumers will tend to use home WiFi as it's free and the perception (and reality!!! at least in my case) is that the home Internet connection is usually better. They will also be wary of data caps.

On top of that, there's the issue of OTT, where the likes of Whatsapp and Skype eat into voice and text revenue. I don't know what Whatsapp's voice feature will be like, but I am sure (well, my assumption) that unlike Skype or FB, it will make use of the 'address book', i.e. you will be calling the actual number, as opposed to a 'connection' (like Skype).

Sure! More data means more money for operators! But...... this is not the case if all that extra data is on free WiFi.

If operators are not careful, in the near (and foreseeable!) future, they will find themselves being nothing more than an ISP.

Gabriel Brown 3/11/2014 | 5:13:10 PM
Re: Carrier WiFi Yes, a lot (most?) of public WiFi is not secure. Passpoint with 802.1X is specifically intended to address this.

The reason I don't like offload as a term is because I think Carrier WiFi should be about providing a better connection than 3G/4G as circumstances dictate or allow. When 3G/4G is better, then use that. There's a good chart from Orange that explains this:

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