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There's no discount, but you can use your Boingo account to pay for in-flight Internet: This is a nice move, long expected, which links up two popular offerings for business travelers. Boingo has a variety of service offerings which may include either unlimited or high-usage access to various parts of the globe. In North American, their $10-per-month plan provides unlimited use of terrestrial hotspots in the network.
The Gogo connection lets you use the same Boingo software, account, and linked credit card to pay for in-flight Internet access at the same retail rate as other passengers. One would hope Boingo could negotiate a better rate by reducing Gogo's marketing burden to bring customers in the future.
Boingo Wireless's new client software identifies and connects to free networks, too: I've been testing for several days Boingo's new Wi-Finder software, a lightweight client for Mac OS X and Windows that identifies and can automatically connect to 325,000 paid locations in Boingo's network or hundreds of thousands free locations. The app is also available with slightly different features for Android and iOS. A subscription is not required, and it's available now at no cost. The software also includes a Wi-Fi search function.
Boingo Wireless now offers three levels of membership with the new client. A free membership allows use of the client to connect to locations that allow access without a fee. The previous pay-as-you-go and subscriber levels remain the same. Pay-as-you-go users need to provide a credit card number, and receive a week of service. The client provides details about cost before a connection is made. For subscribers, the client automatically connects to in-plan hotspots, and provides details about costs associated if you're outside a home network. For subscribers in the Americas to the unlimited plan, fees are only required outside of the Americas.
For free networks, Wi-Finder interprets any splash or terms and services screen and allows a user to accept whatever restrictions are necessary automatically, or manually agree each time. Boingo learns adds new free locations based on subscribers' experiences, thus allowing subsequent visitors to the same connection the chance to autoconnect. I used Wi-Finder on a trip by Amtrak from Seattle to Portland last week, and after "teaching" it by clicking the Agree the first time, the software appeared able to connect on demand thereafter. (Which was useful, as Amtrak's service provider doesn't appear to retain MAC addresses for reauthentication after a device is put to sleep.)
The requirement of a membership confirmed via email for free accounts allows Boingo to meet requirements in many countries for a basic level of accountability and tracking.
From the security standpoint, the client prevents accidental connections to ad hoc networks so that you won't get bit by the "Free Wi-Fi" network phenomenon, in which unconnected Windows XP systems accidentally broadcast that network name.
Boingo is mimicking and expanding on a strategy first developed by Devicescape, which offers Easy WiFi connection software for Mac OS X, Windows, Android, iOS, and Nokia platforms, and is integrated into consumer devices, including the Eye-Fi camera card. Devicescape doesn't have a reseller network, but allows its users to enter credentials at individual networks (like AT&T or BT OpenZone) or aggregators (like Boingo) and automatically log in. Devicescape also manages connections to free networks.
Prices vary with pay as you go for hourly and daily service depending on region, but start at $4.95 for 1 hour or $7.95 for 24 hours in the Americas. Boingo's monthly subscription plans start at $9.95/mo for unlimited service in the Americas and mobile/tablet plans are all $7.95/mo. Prices are higher outside the Americas and may include limits. Many bundled plans (like mobile and laptop) are also available.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, mobile operators, and hardware makers have agreed on a standard for secure and greatly simplified cell-to-Wi-Fi handoffs and cross-networking roaming: The various parties have worked together to create a certifiable method of allowing handsets to access carrier Wi-Fi networks with much less fuss. The standard will also allow simple roaming across carrier networks without the current necessity of creating an account or entering account details. The whole thing is backed by WPA2 security for the Wi-Fi connection, obviating Firesheep, sidejacking, and other compromises on the wireless connection.
For carriers, this means avoiding re-inventing the wheel for every handset or platform. Carriers can buy and integrate gear from companies that have achieved this certification, and that should take them a long way towards allowing every device a carrier offers with Wi-Fi to be able to offload traffic from mobile broadband to Wi-Fi as efficiently as possible.
The Wi-Fi Alliance cites research group Informa as predicting 4.6 yottabytes (4.6 million terabytes) of data will be consumed on cellular networks in 2012 worldwide. The Wi-Fi Alliance predicts its current count of 750,000 hotspots worldwide (which must be measuring only paid and managed locations) will double by 2014. There are millions of less formal hotspots available which won't be affected by today's announcement.
One of the tidbits in the announcement, not particularly emphasized as a pair, is that certified devices will connect to appropriate networks "in many cases" using cellular credentials like SIM cards, and using WPA2 security. What that says to me in big flashing letters is WPA2 Enterprise with EAP-SIM. That's just how geeky I am about Wi-Fi.
WPA2 Enterprise is a Wi-Fi version of the 802.1X port-based access control that limits access to a network quite effectively until proper credentials are presented. In WPA2 Enterprise, only WPA2 (AES-CCMP) encryption is allowed. EAP is a simple communications language that's used by 802.1X to send messages back and forth. It's not secured by default, and must be, because the messages contain credentials. PEAP, EAP-FAST, and EAP-TLS are all popular corporate methods of securing the handshake for logging in.
EAP-SIM is one of the required methods for any approved Wi-Fi device for several years, and uses the SIM (or, I believe, similar modules on other networks) to provide the identity wrapped in a secure method.
Using EAP-SIM with WPA2 Enterprise would allow a feature phone, smartphone, or other cell-embedded device or modem to create a secure connection across the local Wi-Fi connection without a user being involved in any part of the login procedure.
The financial side of roaming across carrier networks wasn't discussed today. I confirmed with the Wi-Fi Alliance that that's a separate discussion as any kind of mobile and data roaming is today. I fear for that particular area. Cellular carriers outside of the same home country charge unjustifiably high rates for roaming: the carrier allowing a non-native customer to roam marks up its service enormously, and the roaming customer's provider adds on top of that. In the modern world, the cost is fairly tiny on the back-end to allow roaming. It's simply a high-margin profit center, and one that European Union regulators have slashed away at. Regulators in other countries lack the cross-border controls or the regulatory interest to get involved.
My fear therefore is that carriers will act like carriers do, and charge extremely high amounts of money for something that benefits from greater use rather than higher prices. Carriers should be encouraging the roaming use of Wi-Fi, a resource that's much cheaper to operate and has vastly more bandwidth in small areas than a cellular network can more expensively provide.
It will probably be more of the same, no matter how technically elegant.
T-Mobile customers get substantially improved airport access, plus ferries: A new agreement between Boingo Wireless and T-Mobile gives T-Mobile's subscribers a lot more access in transit. T-Mobile adds 53 Boingo Wireless airport locations; Boingo is the largest North American Wi-Fi airport operator.
T-Mobile users can now also surf on the Washington State Ferry system at no additional cost. For the tens of thousands of daily ferry commuters--WSF handles over 50 percent of the country's daily ferry trips--T-Mobile just became a lot more attractive.
Boingo gets a little bit in exchange: its subscribers can use T-Mobile's airline club lounge and hotel locations. T-Mobile–operated airports were previously included in roaming.
Virgin Mobile will sell you a MiFi for $150 to use with pay-as-you-need mobile broadband: Virgin is pairing the MiFi with its existing Broadband2Go plan in which you pay for time-limited pools of broadband as you need them. The plans range from $10 for 100 MB used within 10 days to $60 for 5 GB used within 30 days.
Because there's no plan commitment for the MiFi or recurring fees for broadband usage, and because the rate charged by Virgin is as low as its competitors (and lower when you consider overage fees of $50 per GB from Verizon Wireless and Sprint), Virgin has an insanely competitive offering.
The MiFi from Virgin suddenly also becomes an effective competitor to AT&T's iPad plans. AT&T is charging $25 for each 2 GB unit of broadband over a 30-day period. Virgin charges $20 for 300 MB or $40 for 1 GB, which is far higher, of course. But if you want to pay out for 5 GB and allow multiple devices access, $60 for 5 GB is cheaper than the $75 you'd pay for 6 GB (three 2 GB units) from AT&T.
It's a very interesting set of tradeoffs.
TechCrunch reports that the Android 2.2 mobile operating system update brings a couple terrific features to capable phones: The release will add USB tethering, in which a phone acts like a 3G modem for a laptop over USB, and Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot, which lets a phone share a 3G connection to nearby devices over Wi-Fi.
Of course, providing these options in the OS isn't the same as carriers enabling them. Verizon allows hotspot use from the Palm Pro models (Pre and Pixi), dropping the price for the feature to $0 recently. And Verizon and Sprint allow tethering at various costs for phones.
But AT&T doesn't allow tethering or mobile hotspots, presumably because the network can't support the additional usage at any price. AT&T's network buildout is at a fever pitch this year, and one expects the iPad deployment will push the needle into the red even more.
Trustive has released a fascinating worldwide connectivity plan that charges per MB for 3G and per minute for Wi-Fi: I've seen variants of this before, but I believe Trustive has the only service with this scope.
It works this way: you sign up for €99, which includes a €54 credit for service and a Trustive SIM card. If you don't have an unlocked USB 3G modem, Trustive offers one for €150. There's a €15 shipping fee, too. Trustive confirmed that shipping covers international transit.
With that in hand, you can connect to Wi-Fi and 3G network in over 70 countries (Trustive provides a list). All Wi-Fi access is billed at 9 euro cents (€0.09) per minute, with no minimum, regardless of data transferred.
3G use is tiered: Zone A countries, which include the United States, most European nations, India, and China (but not Canada or Mexico), cost €1.50 per MB. Zone B countries are a whopping €15 per MB.
Trustive has some bugs to work out in its explanation, however. The USA, Canada and other countries appear in both Zone A and Zone B lists with no explanation. And there are typos and some confusing information around the site.
The prices are extraordinarily steep, but in the universe of international roaming, may appear perfectly reasonable.
Corporate roaming service provider iPass has added Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet to its premium services: iPass provides access around the world to hotspots, hotel and other Ethernet, and dial-up service to 3,500 corporations, but airspace has evaded it until now. The deal between iPass and Aircell lets iPass resell Gogo service at retail pricing, but provide it on a single bill with the same account login.
This may seem like a small win, but it's another step towards ready mass adoption of inflight Internet service by regular business travelers. Aircell recently announced a fixed monthly subscription--$35 per month for unlimited use across nearly all the planes currently equipped with Gogo.
That monthly pass may seem in conflict with iPass's a la carte pricing, but it's not. Corporations often turn to iPass or its competitors to provide a more regular and accountable price for access without having to have many different monthly recurring accounts that are pooled and managed, or sign up all the frequent travelers for their own plans. On average, individual sessions could be cheaper when centrally billed.
iPass customers typically set up their systems to use a corporate login across iPass locations integrated and authenticated within the enterprise. iPass lets companies set anti-virus, firewall, and VPN policies which are enforced before a login can occur. Centralized electronic billing records allow better expense tracking as well.
Boingo Wireless has a new app for the iPhone, iPod touch, and, soon, the iPad that lets you buy an hour of service at a time: The Boingo Wi-Fi Credits app will let you connect from any iPhone OS device for $1.99 for 60 minutes at a single location in Boingo's aggregated worldwide network. You can also purchase 11 credits for $19.99.
Boingo has a $7.95 per month mobile plan that all iPhone OS devices qualify for; the company reiterated today that the iPad would be supported out of the gate. That's why two bucks for one hour seems a bit steep, since Boingo doesn't require a contract commitment to use its mobile service.
The only other worldwide pay-as-you-go system is Skype Access, formally launched a few days, which charges US$0.22 per minute for on-demand access. (See my article from 18 March 2010.)
Skype is promoting its Skype Access pay-per-minute Wi-Fi option by making it free this weekend: From the start 20 March (0000 GMT) to the end of 21 March (2359 GMT), you can use Skype Access to access 100,000 hotspots worldwide at no cost. The service, available since last July, must just have left beta testing, even though it was unclear to me that it wasn't a released service.
Skype Access uses Skype software to handle a Wi-Fi login transaction, and normally costs (including Luxembourg's VAT) US$0.22, Cdn$0.26, €0.16 per minute; fees are debited from the Skype Credit in your account. Skype itself is a free download and free to use for Skype-to-Skype IM, file transfer, audio chat, and video chat.
That's expensive in the U.S., where you can pay $10/mo for unlimited Boingo Wireless service at the same or more locations, and where $8 to $12 is the most you'd pay for 24 hours (the equivalent of about 30 to 60 minutes at Skype's per-minute rate).
However, elsewhere in the world, being able to get 10 minutes of Wi-Fi for a couple bucks might seem much more appealing without having a service plan or paying ludicrous European hotel prices, which can be $20 to $40 per night.
A full list of supported hotspots networks is available.
AT&T may be crying uncle about how much bandwidth 3G smartphone consumers use, but the firm is proud of the level of Wi-Fi service it offers: Wi-Fi is vastly cheaper to provide than 3G, and AT&T knows it. That's why the company has been expanding coverage to its customers both for improving loyalty and decreasing costs. (It's why I expect AT&T may offer its 3G femtocell at no cost to many customers, too.)
AT&T's Q3 2009 hotspot connection numbers are just crazy: 25.4m sessions, up from 15m the quarter before, a 66 percent increase. Of those connections, 60 percent were from "integrated devices," meaning smartphones. That makes sense given the release of iPhone OS 3, which provided an automatic login to AT&T hotspots for U.S. iPhone subscribers. (That could result in sessions in which the iPhone user had no idea the phone connected and retrieved email or performed other tasks while ostensibly asleep.)
The company reports that 27m of its customers now have free access to its 20,000 hotspot U.S. network.
Devicescape has shipped Easy Wi-Fi 4.1 for iPhone and iPod touch, integrating location with hotspot availability: This version of the app ties in with Devicescape's plans to provide comprehensive mapping of high-quality fee and free hotspots around the world. The free software automates connections to any hotspot networks that you have credentials for, personal hotspots, and free public hotspots. See my earlier article, Devicescape Adds Seamless Wi-Fi Access Service, Mapping (5 October 2009), for more details on the broader strategy.
Handheld makers can turn to Devicescape for seamless login, access maps, hotspot aggregation: Devicescape is updating its Easy Wi-Fi system to offer equipment makers an all-in-one deal to consumers. Buy a camera, for instance, and the device comes with lifetime worldwide hotspot access along with no-button seamless login. Capable devices will also gain maps showing available in- and out-of-network hotspots in proximity with an annotation for quality.
This move could change the market for attaching Wi-Fi access to mobile devices if manufacturers hop on board. Selling devices that have permanent, seamless access to hotspot networks would seem to command a premium, and reduce friction in using a device. Less friction means fewer product returns; premiums and fewer returns mean higher margins.
The consumer has the cost of Wi-Fi hidden in the device price, but considers the value of the device as an overall flat rate. It's a "tax," but one that's exposed in the purchase price.
This is a classic multiple-party win. Manufacturers sell more gear at higher prices. Hotspot venues gain more users who, not paying for service, pay for goods; and additional usage produces incremental revenue for hotspot operators. And the consumer wins by having devices that are simpler to use and keep them more connected, something that the success of cell phones and the iPod touch seem to confirm is desirable.
Devicescape has been pursuing its Easy Wi-Fi approach for a few years now, after morphing from a back-end software firm that sold embedded Wi-Fi software for PDAs and other devices. Easy Wi-Fi combines software embedded or installed in a device--typically a portable device--with an account at the firm's Web site that manages which home, office, free, and commercial networks you have credentials for. Logins to known networks are automatic. (The Web account has become increasingly optional, but it's still a great tool when you have credentials for multiple networks.)
This latest transition turns Easy Wi-Fi into a very specific form of hotspot aggregator: only for equipment makers. Unlike Boingo Wireless or iPass, Devicescape won't have a customer-facing access plan. Rather, manufacturers will pay the firm per-device fees that cover unlimited eternal hotspot use by equipment purchasers.
The firm's CEO, Dave Fraser, said, "It's obvious that there's a big attraction for putting Wi-Fi into devices, whether it's netbooks, new types of consumer electronics, like media players or ebook readers," and so on. But device makers have a challenge.
Fraser said companies could "ship the device with service included, which is theoretically a great experience for the consumer, because it just works," but that's "very expensive for them." Nintendo, Kodak, and a few camera makers all included free access for a limited time to hotspot networks (Nintendo partnered with Wayport in the U.S.; Kodak and others with T-Mobile).
Those deals all expired, and new devices haven't been shipped with bundles; the exception is Eye-Fi, which offers yearly rates for Wayport hotspot access, bundling the first year in with some memory cards. Amazon's Kindle includes free Sprint 3G access, but the bookseller clearly pays a fee to Sprint for each book or media item downloaded.
Fraser noted also, that even with bundles, consumers are typically limited to the country in which a device was purchased, which doesn't conform to modern travel plans.
The second option is to "leave it up to the end user" to configure and figure out. Again, Eye-Fi is the only firm that makes mobile equipment that's easy to configure for multiple networks from a desktop computer with a keyboard. Apple gets around this with the iPhone OS 3 software by managing some hotspot connections that require a button to be clicked or a certain kind of login.
I've tested a ton of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, and the single most irritating part of using them is navigating admission to a hotspot, even one that you're already paying a monthly fee to use.
As I've long discussed on this site, devices without Web browsers can't connect to most free networks, because most free networks have some kind of usage policy acceptance (a link, checkbox, and/or button), or even an account to use. That means that most of the hotspots people would want to use with a mobile device are off limits. (Fraser said a survey revealed 54 percent of Devicescape's membership base "will only ever use Wi-Fi if it's free.")
Until now, Easy Wi-Fi's proposition was to insert itself at the "leave it up to the end user" phase, offering software for Windows and Mac OS X, as well as smartphones and a few other devices that allow third-party software to be installed.
Boingo Wireless tried to fill this hole in part by offering its software for integration with third parties and manufacturers. Skype is probably the highest-profile partner, with a per-minute hotspot rate (that's astoundingly high at $0.19/min.) available at present only to Mac OS X Skype users.
This is where Devicescape is attempting to step in. Added to the connection part, Devicescape will provide features to find hotspots, and a global access plan.
Fraser said, "We're offering this package at an economics that a device manufacturer should easily be able to ship lifetime access products."
He noted that Devicescape currently manages 400,000 session connections per day across all users and platforms, and this has allowed them to capture a massive amount of data about hotspots available around the world--2m access points of all kinds, which the company categorizes.
Fraser said the company scores a hotspot based on connection quality, signal strength (which obviously varies enormously), bandwidth, and the number of people who connect over time. Weighted into that are values from the most recent connections, too.
The hotspot's score is represented on a map as a blue pin with no signal waves up to three signal waves (3 on each side). The no-wave pins are from locations about which not enough information has yet been collected.
Fraser said the firm sweeps in any open access point, as well as commercial networks (which are marked with red pins). The company then attempts to figure out whether a location is intended to be accessible or not. Secured base stations aren't listed, and the firm tends to remove those in what it analyzes are residential neighborhoods. (Fraser said it's quite obvious in analyzing density what's a residential neighborhood and what's not.)
"We have an innocent-until-proven-guilty model: if we see an open access point, or a free network, we assume that it's meant to be shared until we're told otherwise," Fraser said. The company will remove any location on request. In years past, I'd have disagreed with this policy, but it's clear from my travels in the last year that a vanishingly small number of access points available from a public street or in trafficked areas that have no protection are intended to be private.
Fraser also notes--and I agree--that there's no definitive database of networks that are intended to be free and open; JiWire has a large database, but (despite a multi-year effort) it's not exhaustive since it's network-operator reported, and it doesn't show excluded access points.
Fraser said that of 2m scanned access points so far worldwide, only 100,000 meet Devicescape's criteria for reliable quality that they would offer to its customers.
As with Skyhook Wireless's method of capturing data from end users who employ its Wi-Fi positioning system to supplement wardriving, Devicescape will rely nearly solely on automatically provided data from users. "Every user ends up reinforcing and allowing us to grow the network," Fraser said.
The mapping software will be available on smartphones and other devices with the ability to display and navigate a map; the company's Web site will offer the map directly starting 20-Oct-2009.
Fraser wouldn't disclose which for-fee networks are partners, only noting that the firm had worked out terms that allow it to offer eternal access per device.
Because the software will keep the previous features, those with access to AT&T or T-Mobile or any other commercial network will be able to overlay that access into their account as well.
"We don't want to ever charge for premium access, but we do see ourselves as being an onramp," Fraser said.
Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport (ATL) would like to offer its passengers free Wi-Fi: Economic conditions don't allow that switchover, however. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says the airport sees 25,000 to 40,000 connections each month, which brings in $1m. If that were the airport's share, that's $2-$3 per connection, which seems rather high since many travelers are using roaming systems based on other numbers I've seen. Some percentage is paying $8 for a daypass, sure, but that shouldn't be half.
ATL renewed contracts until 1-August-2011 with three providers, which include Boingo and T-Mobile based on the network's splash page. A hybrid system is under consideration, where service would be free to casual users, but corporate users would have access to for-fee networks to which they had plan access. The free network would display ads.
Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world, and would be only the second very-large airport, following Denver, that opened its network for ad-supported, free use. Most other free airport networks are in second- and third-tier markets that carry plenty of passengers, but use free Wi-Fi as an amenity to attract travelers away from first-tier hubs.
As expected, Comcast will resell Clearwire's WiMax service: The Comcast High-Speed 2Go brand will be powered by Clearwire, starting in Portland. Comcast is focused on the mobile part, of course, since the company has its own extensive residential and business fixed broadband portfolio. Comcast has invested in Clearwire, and has previously resold Sprint Nextel service, as well.
The company will offer a Metro plan and card that works only in the WiMax footprint area, and a Nationwide plan and card that offers 3G everywhere Sprint has it, and 4G within WiMax footprints.
Comcast is using the power of the bundle, where the reduced cost in presenting and collecting multiple bills results in savings for the company and the consumer, with a 12-month introductory rate. A $50/mo bundle pairs 12 Mbps home cable broadband with WiMax service; consumers can add national 3G service for another $20/mo. The rate after 12 months is $73/mo for WiMax and $93/mo for 3G+WiMax, or $30 to $50 above the current 12 Mbps broadband rate. You pay separately for a broadband dongle, likely under $100, but that information wasn't provided yet.
Clearwire charges $50/mo for unlimited consumer roaming, and has a variety of business plans for shared bandwidth among multiple accounts. Sprint has a combined 3G/4G plan that's $80/mo (with a 2-year contract) that includes 5 GB per month of 3G bandwidth and unlimited 4G bandwidth. Comcast appears to be following both firms' leads on that topic.
With either plan, it looks like a fairly enormous discount, especially during the introductory year, but also thereafter.
It's an interesting mash-up: Qwest is no threat to AT&T, occupying no overlapping territory both being former Baby Bells, and Qwest has no wireless cellular division. This lack of conflict probably makes it an ideal customer to buy access from AT&T to 17,000 U.S. hotspots and offer those at no cost to its broadband subscribers. With Boingo now down to $10 per month, one could say this value is about $6 worth, since Boingo is a superset of all AT&T locations with many thousands of others on top.
With Verizon perhaps nearing a deal to offer regional or national access to Boingo's network; AT&T with its extensive system in place; T-Mobile with a network of home and roaming partners available cheaply; and Qwest now part of the gang--Sprint Nextel appears rather the odd one out.
Of course, Qwest, Verizon, and AT&T are focused on their wired broadband customers, and AT&T is the only carrier to also offer free Wi-Fi to some of its mobile subscribers. Sprint has no wired broadband any more, and Verizon is entirely 3G oriented for mobile broadband. Cablevision is the only multiple systems operator (MSO) that's offering free Wi-Fi, and in its case that's the network it's building out in its home area at great expense.
European wholesale prices for Wi-Fi require Boingo to move global plan higher, restrict minutes: Boingo has a few tweaks in the works for its worldwide hotspot plans. The good news first: Their subscriptionless option, Boingo As You Go, will now include all the Americas at $8 per session. Central and South America used to have a higher charge. In neutral news, their unlimited US and Canada offering (Boingo Unlimited) remains $22 per month. Asia-Pacific As You Go pricing also remains the same, at $10 per day pass.
Now for the bad news: Boingo Global shoots up from $39 to $59 per month with a drop in minutes from 3,000 to 2,000; a 24-hour As You Go pass in Europe rises from $10 to $20. Boingo head David Hagan explained to me that the pricing in Europe has required this charge, because European operators charge by the minute for wholesale time. Hagan said that retail prices in European hotels and airports tend to be about 25 to 30 euros a day, far higher than most of the rest of the world.
"Ninety percent of our usage is less than 2,000 minutes per customer," Hagan noted, but that last 10 percent can be a killer. In hotels, "people get connected in a hotel and leave it up all night," which the hotel's Wi-Fi operators passes on as minutes used to Boingo.
As a transitional move, existing Global subscribers will get a year free of Boingo Mobile (normally $8 per month, and thus $96 for a year). They've started to send mailings to their Global customer base.
The Global plan launched about a year ago, and Boingo says that usage has been "extremely high," but that they're upside down in terms of what they're charging. Compared to other in-network plans in Europe, such as that offered by BT, Hagan says Boingo remains highly competitive for cross-network access. iPass, which has a similarly large worldwide footprint, although a broader business model, offers individual global plans for $45 per month, which also includes dial-up and some Ethernet connections.
On other fronts, Boingo software is now available for the top five handset makers' platforms worldwide. The firm is playing a bit of a waiting game with the iPhone, as they see whether Apple makes the necessary hooks available in its developer toolkit for Boingo to build the software package they'd like. Boingo's airport division continues to grow, too, Hagan says, where it provides both direct revenue and a conduit to distribute their software to business travelers.
Whisher has relaunched itself with both free and metered fee options for connecting: Whisher is a network. No, it's a buddy list. No, it's a hotspot aggregator. Okay, it's all three in one, now. The company launched as a way to pull together buddies and free locations into a single connection package for Mac and Windows that would prevent people from having to remember or distribute passwords to join. The first software release included a standalone client that had instant messaging and file transfer built in.
Whisher's new release, a few weeks old, strips down the client, embedding it into the Wireless Networks manager in Windows and into the AirPort menu under Mac OS X. Under Windows, account details are embedded into the Wireless Network window; in Mac OS X, Whisher uses a lightweight System Preferences pane to handle account information. The IM and file transfer features are missing, but company head Ferran Moreno said the options may return in the future when people are more accustomed to the basic functionality of their client.
The biggest change beyond form factor, however, is the addition of WiFi Out, a name that sounds patterned after Skype's SkypeOut. WiFi Out is a per-minute roaming service that uses the WeRoam aggregation footprint as well as separate agreements with major European hotspot providers. They're claiming about 60,000 hotspots across 400 networks.
WiFi Out works differently from most of the other aggregators out there today, which have mostly switched to flat monthly pricing for unlimited access. That includes Boingo Wireless, iPass, and Trustive, among others.
Whisher, instead, requires a minimum prepaid deposit of either $10 or €10 via credit card or PayPal. Metered service runs about US 10 cents per minute, although it varies widely among providers; a given hotspot's price is shown in the network selection interface.
In my current experience, there is no provider offering a combination of prepaid metered rates and broad access. There might be a niche for this for the occasional traveler. Boingo charges $39 or €29 per month for global, which would translate in Whisher's pricing system to about 6 1/2 hours of service at 10 cents a minute. That's a reasonable benchmark for figuring out whether an aggregator with unlimited access makes more sense to you (since Boingo's footprint encompasses all of Whisher's) than a pay-as-you-go service.
The company continues to list tens of thousands of free locations identified by their users, and free access shared by their users from their own locations.
In a deal that's been years in coming, Boingo's aggregated hotspot service now includes 9,000 McDonald's stores: Coming on the heels of Starbucks's switch from T-Mobile to AT&T, this is a very good week indeed for Boingo Wireless--they'll be adding the two biggest chain networks in the U.S., both of which dwarf the next largest network.
Boingo sells aggregated access to roughly 100,000 hotspots worldwide: unlimited U.S. access is $22 per month, while worldwide is $39. A mobile device service is $8 per month worldwide.
Christian Gunning, Boingo's marketing director, noted that McDonald's may have a reputation for bringing in local people and consumers, but, "The McDonald's [addition] also helps you with a subset of the business traveler group, the windshield warriors, the regional sales guys, who go from town to town to town."
McDonald's locations are operated by Wayport under an arrangement that they first secured in 2004 where resellers of the service pay a flat rate per location in the network rather than a per-session fee, which is otherwise common in the industry to this day. (Read "Wayport's Wi-Fi World Switches from Per-Connection to Per-Venue Fees," 2004-05-24, for historical background.)
AT&T's new contract with Starbucks also puts the coffee giant's 7,000 stores into Boingo's roaming arena as the telecom firm takes over management during 2008. Starbucks and AT&T said a schedule hadn't yet been set for the first market to switch to AT&T, nor which markets would switch first; just that it would start in second quarter 2008.
(Industry trivia contest: By the end of 2008, AT&T will have the largest network in the U.S., with over 17,000 hotspots directly under contract; who is #2? Panera has over 1,000 locations with free access, and I'm not sure any hotspot network is larger than that.)
Boingo also announced today that it had joined the Wireless Broadband Alliance, a several-year-old international group that facilitates roaming agreements among its members, T-Mobile's U.S. operations being the only American component. Boingo operates 28 airports in the U.S. and UK, and that gives them some leverage.
Devicescape has its first operator partner for its seamless login system for mobile devices and laptops: Devicescape's approach is to remove the necessity for a device's owner to have to sign in: no tedious entry (and memorization) of account details for your camera, iPhone, or what have you to get online. The operator deal puts their software front and center in the plans of the carrier as it rolls equipment and services out to its customers, driving more use in this case of the 8,000 hotspots offered across Europe by DT. Reducing friction in getting a device on a network almost by necessity increases a network's use. The company also announced its operator service.
Devicescape recently released its 2.0 software--see "Devicescape Releases New Connection Software: No Computer Required to Configure, Gain Hotspot Access," 2008-02-05--which allows properly equipped devices to connect to a hotspot network without any prior configuration or Web site account setup.