LAS VEGAS -- Wi-Fi and DAS network provider Boingo Wireless found that Wi-Fi calling requires hotspot download speeds of around 160 Kbps for audio connections and 2.5Mbps for video connections, and latency of less than 200 ms. As a result, the company said it had to significantly increase the number of Wi-Fi hotspots it operates in major U.S. airports in order to support mobile Wi-Fi calling services.
"We're enabling Wi-Fi mobility," explained Boingo CTO Derek Peterson. He said mobility is "the next layer of Wi-Fi."
Boingo's findings are noteworthy as Wi-Fi becomes an increasingly important element of wireless coverage in airports, stadiums, malls and other high-traffic venues. Peterson explained that most deployments of public Wi-Fi networks today focus on coverage rather than mobility -- and he said adding the mobility element is no small feat.
Indeed, in a recent Boingo presentation, Peterson offered a clear look at the work Boingo has done to support Sprint's (NYSE: S) Wi-Fi calling service. Sprint last year inked a Wi-Fi offload deal with Boingo that calls for Sprint's Android and iOS smartphone customers to automatically switch to Boingo hotspots in roughly three dozen major U.S. airports. Peterson said that Boingo had to increase the density of its Wi-Fi networks in order to ensure that Sprint customers making Wi-Fi calls while strolling through an airport would remain connected.
Boingo shows its airport Wi-Fi hotspot locations before its contract with Sprint, and then the new hotspots it installed to support mobility and Wi-Fi calling.
But increased density isn't the only lever that Boingo pulled to enable mobile Wi-Fi calling across its airport Wi-Fi networks. The company also added Hotspot 2.0 technology, also called Passpoint, to its network to allow Android and iOS phones to automatically connect to its network without requiring users to log in first. And it introduced support for 802.11r and 802.11k, technologies that Peterson said support seamless handoff between access points, fast switching among different access points, and "Intelligent Neighbor Awareness" among access points.
"It's really working well," Peterson said, noting that Sprint is "testing every location."
While Sprint is one of the first carriers to openly support Wi-Fi offloading, many expect other carriers to follow suit. Indeed, T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) last year tested Passpoint-powered offloading among roughly 50,000 customers in Tampa and Orlando with cable operator Bright House Networks. The carrier suspended the trial in December, explaining that "The Preferred Wi-Fi Network technology trial was about seeing what works, what can be improved and how we can continue to work with ecosystem partners." T-Mobile added that "Wi-Fi remains an important part of T-Mobile's strategy and we will continue to deliver unique Wi-Fi connectivity experiences to our customers."
As cable operators, independent vendors like Boingo and others continue to build out public Wi-Fi networks, and technology companies push Wi-Fi roaming and offloading solutions like Passpoint, industry watchers expect smartphone users and others to increasingly move their traffic onto Wi-Fi and off cellular networks. And Boingo's latest research indicates Wi-Fi network installers may want to consider building their networks with an eye toward Wi-Fi calling and mobility as well as coverage.
- see this Boingo presentation (PDF)
T-Mobile suspends trial of Passpoint-enabled Wi-Fi phones with Bright House Networks
Boingo plans to push NFV and SDN across 'majority' of its Wi-Fi networks this year
Boingo CEO: Sprint deal is 'tip of the iceberg,' Wi-Fi network traffic up 60%