Wi-Fi and distributed antenna system provider Boingo Wireless has signed a tier-one U.S. wireless carrier to a multi-year major Wi-Fi offload agreement. The deal will include deployment on up to 40 million of the carrier’s handsets for Wi-Fi offload at Boingo’s managed and operated networks in 2015, as well as the option to auto-authenticate onto Boingo’s aggregated network of Wi-Fi hotspots. The deal follows a successful market trial with millions of handsets that demonstrated automatic and seamless authentication onto Boingo’s network. The agreement covers the carrier’s entire smartphone customer base. When a smartphone customer comes into range of a Boingo Wi-Fi network, the system will automatically connect their device to the network, requiring no action on the customer’s part. Additionally, this agreement includes Passpoint-certified mobile devices to leverage Wi-Fi authentication for carrier offload via Boingo’s Passpoint Secure network, which includes WPA2 enterprise-grade encryption technology.
The massive worldwide growth in data traffic, driven by smartphone use, has caused the networks of many mobile operators to be overtaxed. Offloading of traffic onto Wi-Fi networks has been and is an excellent way for MNOs to take the burden off their 3G/4G networks, and is going to be increasingly in demand as a solution. David Hagan, Chief Executive Officer of Boingo Wireless, summed up the situation as follows: “It is clear that with skyrocketing mobile data traffic on cellular networks, the need for carrier Wi-Fi offload has now arrived. This is a milestone we have been working toward for years, and we believe this agreement is just the first step in what’s to come. True, seamless Wi-Fi offload is here.” Formerly, Wi-Fi offload required the user to log in and authenticate, whereas Boingo’s solution allows devices to detect the presence of nearby usable Wi-Fi signals and automatically—and securely—access them. While the identity of the U.S. MNO that entered into the partnership with Boingo has yet to be revealed publicly, the fact that it is first-tier is a clear indicator that this technology will be very influential in the mobile market.
The seamless offload technology presages a coming wireless world in which the distinction between cellular and Wi-Fi will become largely irrelevant, as both are integrated into a single service. We have recently seen an interesting development in which U.S-based telecom products manufacturer Qualcomm developed a system that allows MNOs to use the unlicensed spectrum bands generally taken by Wi-Fi to carry LTE service. While this is in a sense the opposite of Wi-Fi offload, it still points to the general convergence between the two types of network.