I've received a fair amount of pushback on my Boingo article from Wednesday from readers and fellow Webloggers on how superfluous Boingo seems. Why not just do what they're doing in software via a browser window, they ask? Why lock into a specific proprietary software package thus creating the potential for a non-standard network?
This misses the mark due to what I would term a completely understandable blurring of the lines between the Web and the Internet. The Web runs on top of the TCP/IP stack, a layer of protocols that allows programs to break data into pieces and send it to a known address over any kind of medium (Ethernet, Wi-Fi, dial-up, ATM, etc.).
Boingo's software dips down below where the Web (even with Java) can go into protocol layers below applications. By using these lower layers, Boingo is employing standards to tie together disparate wireless network operators. The point is: anyone can do what they're doing; they just have to do it.
My understanding is that Boingo's agreements are non-exclusive with each carrier. Sky Dayton, Boingo's founder, said to me repeatedly that the goal of any network should be distinct from the goal of a service provider: networks should load traffic; service providers should acquire customers and give them the most ubiquitous footprint.
Further, Boingo's software doesn't require any proprietary software installed at the service provider. In fact, that's part of its charm. The service provider continues using its existing authentication system; Boingo interfaces with that through its magic innards which can talk to many, many different kinds of login systems as well as its own. Boingo's software is a universal translator.
Boingo is not a software platform locking users in. In fact, it's a standards-based tool that relies on only standard protocols to ease the process for its users. Other companies will be able to come along, using different or identical protocols and still transit TCP/IP data on the Internet. They'll have to negotiate their own contracts with wireless infrastructure providers, but that will be the case in any vision of the future of Wi-Fi.
As a quick rundown, Boingo uses the following standards: NDIS 5.1 (talking to cards to sniff the network), RADIUS and related authentication protocols, VPN (not sure if they're using PPTP or IPSec, but I would bet on IPSec, the better of the two), authenticated SMTP (to login to send outbound mail whether using their software or not), and TCP/IP.