Boingo Wireless, a U.S.-based Wi-Fi provider, and U.S. mobile operator Sprint announced a multi-year Wi-Fi agreement that will enable access to Boingo Wi-Fi networks in 35 major U.S. airports. Sprint devices within proximity of a Boingo hotspot can automatically connect to the Wi-Fi network, providing service at the fastest speeds available, whether via Sprint cellular or Boingo Wi-Fi. The auto-authenticating Wi-Fi connections are available at no additional charge to all Sprint customers with capable devices.
An important trend in the mobile telecom market today is the way Wi-Fi is increasingly being integrated with cellular service. “With Wi-Fi being the world’s largest wireless ecosystem, we view it as a highly complementary layer to our network,” Sprint CTO Stephen Bye said in a statement. “By enabling customers to move seamlessly between secure Wi-Fi and cellular, our customers will have a better mobile experience in more locations, all while lowering their cost of data usage.” It is interesting to compare concept of Wi-Fi as a backup or complement for 3G/4G service with a related concept just announced by Google, called Project Fi, which also involves a partnership with Sprint. Google says it will be offering MVNO service on the networks of both Sprint and T-Mobile, but with Wi-Fi as the default first option that its devices will seek. In Project Fi, cellular will be the backup, rather than the other way around. We have seen several other Wi-Fi handoff services announced recently, generally device-specific and not as ambitious as Project Fi.
In our view, in order for such offerings to be truly appealing to consumers, a critical mass of Wi-Fi hotspots or networks must exist in places where consumers find themselves needing or wanting to obtain connectivity. Public Wi-Fi is expanding but is still well short of being truly widespread in most regions. Boingo and Sprint, with their offering, have the advantage of being able to depend on a guaranteed existing set of Wi-Fi hotspots in airports, where there is known customer demand. While limited in its aims, the multi-year agreement between the two companies appears to be a win-win proposition.