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Boingo Hypes up HotSpots

Internet access via cellular networks may be a hot commodity in North America, but Wi-Fi still has a hot place in plenty of global markets.

That's the word from Boingo Wireless, a worldwide hotspot access provider, which just extended its flat-rate session-based Wi-Fi plan to road warriors traveling in North, South and Central America.

For $7.95 daily, users can access the Internet at one of any of Boingo's thousands of hotspots, including airports, hotels, and restaurants.

In a perfect world, mobile wireless Internet connections would follow business and leisure travelers wherever they roam. Reality though, is quite different.

Internet cards are fallible, with spotty and sluggish domestic service. In the case of international travel, Internet service is even more problematic. Even the hardiest of mobile Internet providers don't support international data coverage.

This leaves the typical business traveler, such as Arnaldo Colón, an independent realtor and pharmaceutical representative, with just a few options, especially when traveling outside his coverage area.

Colón said his Sprint PCS wireless card provides him all the Internet connectivity he needs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. But when he journeys to Europe and Russia his options are somewhat limited. "If the hotel's business center is reasonably priced, I'll use that," said Colón. Otherwise, he seeks out cyber cafes.

The other option for travelers wanting to connect to the Internet while on the road is the extremely fragmented world of Wi-Fi, with dozens of providers requiring a different username and password, each sending a different bill.

Boingo's pitch is that it can simplify Wi-Fi access for people on the road, according to Daryl Schoolar, senior analyst covering wireless broadband for In-Stat, a division of Reed Business Information.

"People get tired of having to deal with multiple providers," said Schoolar. "Boingo and iPass do a good job of bringing aggregate services together." iPass services only business users, according to Schoolar.

In Boingo's case, Wi-Fi service is available to business and leisure travelers. The company has relationships with 150 Wi-Fi network operators around the world, representing over 100,000 locations, according to David Hagan, Boingo president and CEO.

Boingo's providers include: AT&T, Wayport, iBahn, T-Mobile, BT Openzone, Orange France, Livedoor, Singtel, Telmex, Pronto, HubTelecom, Vex, Attingo, Bell Mobility, Net Near U, StayOnline, Kubi Wireless, Telenet, and Internet Solutions.

Boingo pays these partner-providers a wholesale fee each time a Boingo customer connects to their network. In turn, Boingo customers pay Boingo a daily or a monthly fee to access WIFI networks with a single username and password. The WIFI connections are faster, too, than EvDO connections of 3.1 MBps or less. WIFI 802.11g network offers speeds up to 54 Mbps for uploads and downloads, according to Boingo.

"The GoBoingo application pops up, and has a one-click logon process to get you onto the network," said Hagan. Or users can login on the homepage of a local network.

The company's Boingo Mobile service gives a glimpse into the future of business and leisure travel, allowing the business traveler to leave behind the bulky laptop in favor of a smartphone that can access WIFI connections globally for Internet access, email, file uploads and downloads, and even VOIP telephony.

Boingo Mobile supports Nokia N and E Series, Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0, SonyEricsson UIQ, Belkin, and Motorola MOTO Q 11 smartphones, with the Blackberry platform on the product roadmap for the future.

Sophisticated smartphone users may also access VOIP telephony across the Boingo WIFI network with companies such as Fring and Skype.

"It could be free (Skype to Skype for example) or a low per minute cost depending on your VOIP provider," said Hagan. "Either way, it's a substantial savings over the $1 per minute typical cellphone roaming charge."