Los Angeles Business Journal

Wall Street Cools to Provider of Wi-Fi Hot Spots

ONLINE: Boingo squeezed by customers’ push for free or low-cost access. By Tom Dotan Monday, March 4, 2013

“People downplayed those concerns when the numbers were good,” said Donna Jaegers, an analyst with Denver’s D.A. Davidson & Co. “Now that the company is having some problems, it’s made people start to take a closer look.”

Boingo executives declined requests for comment.

The transition Hagan referenced in the conference call is a move from the consumer Wi-Fi business to partnerships with the cell networks. As data use from mobile devices continues to skyrocket due to the growth of smartphones and tablets, mobile companies have tried to “offload” the heaviest users onto Wi-Fi networks.

Boingo has made preliminary deals with smaller, rural cell companies for offloading. And it already has agreements with New York’s Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. of Overland Park, Kan., to give Wi-Fi access to laptop users on the carriers’ 3G and 4G networks.

In the earnings call, Hagan mentioned a deal Boingo has signed with a major U.S. cell network for offloading in international territories. That means if the carrier’s customers are outside the country they will have the option to connect to Boingo’s network of Wi-Fi hot spots for calling or data use and avoid roaming charges. Hagan didn’t disclose the name of the carrier.

That partnership might eventually lead to the kind of domestic deal with a major mobile network that Boingo needs to strengthen the offloading business – and its bottom line.

When it comes to offloading, “we’re in a show-me state right now, and nobody is showing revenue,” said analyst Jaegers.

The upside from the growth in data offloading has yet to make up for the loss from Wi-Fi users, said Jon Hickman, an analyst at Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services Inc. He recently cut his rating on Boingo from “buy” to “neutral” on concerns that the offloading business wasn’t ready to pick up the slack in the near future.

“The growth trend in mobile device and data use isn’t going away,” he said. “What’s going to save them is the offloading, and that’s going to take some time.”

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