Boingo in discussions with ‘multiple carriers’ for small cell deployments: CEO

Wi-Fi provider Boingo Wireless is seeing “incredible” carrier interest in small cells, and it’s planning further deployments in multiple venues with multiple carriers, particularly at military bases and at entertainment venues, this year.

The company announced last quarter that it had its first commercial small cell deployment at a convention center outside of Chicago, and CEO David Hagan said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Tuesday that it’s seeing particular interest on the part of carriers for improving cellular coverage at military bases, which tend to be in remote locations, and entertainment venues.

Last year, the company announced that it had added a second Tier 1 operator to its Wi-Fi offload roster following its first deal with Sprint. Boingo has not named the second Tier 1 carrier, but sources told FierceWireless last year that AT&T is most likely offloading some of its cellular traffic to Boingo hotspots.

Hagan this week said that the company expanded the number of airports with its second, unnamed Tier 1 carrier to five, and it expects to continue rolling out additional venues throughout 2017.

“We’re very pleased with where we are in terms of the rollout schedule, the Passpoint profiles are going to be pushed out, we’re told, by early April,” he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. “Once that is done, I think they’ll get very focused on rolling out additional footprint and we’re working with their local market teams as we speak on those rollout plans. The Passpoint has to happen first, otherwise there aren’t any customers out there to connect … I think we’re comfortable saying by year end we think we’ll have them on the majority of our networks, but it’s definitely going to be back loaded. But we’re very encouraged by that.”

RELATED: Boingo launches another Wi-Fi offloading service with unnamed carrier, following Sprint deal

Passpoint is an industry-wide solution designed to streamline network access in hotspots and eliminate the need for users to find and authenticate a network each time they connect, making it more convenient and secure for consumers and enabling a more cellular-like experience when connecting to Wi-Fi.

Carrier offload for Boingo is when a carrier like Sprint puts traffic on the network and Boingo collects revenue on a per-megabyte basis. Separately, with its service provider business, Boingo runs the network on behalf of a carrier, and that typically involves a monthly fee to Boingo.

Boingo signed 43 Tier 1 carrier contracts and 38 new venues in 2016, including a landmark agreement with an entertainment company in the fourth quarter that gives it exclusive rights to build distributed antenna systems (DAS) networks in 27 amphitheaters across the country.

In a research note, Jefferies analyst Scott Goldman said momentum has picked up in recent quarters and several catalysts lie ahead, including an expanded military presence, ramping offloading activity, a nascent small cell opportunity and a broadening of verticals served by Boingo’s DAS.

“Within DAS, a newly signed contract for 27 amphitheaters and on-going small cell discussions add to the already attractive runway created by recent record venue signings,” Goldman wrote. “In Wholesale, the 2nd carrier offload will continue to ramp with more traffic and venues added, while a new Comes with Boingo partner comes online.”

The company recently announced MasterCard as the second major brand to launch a "Comes with Boingo" offering, which bundles unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi with loyalty and rewards programs.

Overall, Boingo’s revenue increased 14% in 2016 to $159.3 million, compared to 2015, and its net loss attributable to common stockholders in 2016 was $27.3 million compared with a net loss of $22.3 million in 2015.