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Summary:

Boingo is a service that can be indispensable for those who have a mobile lifestyle. I frequently work mobile, so the $10/monthly fee is money well spent. A recent trip demonstrated an alternate method to connect to the web, and that has me considering dropping Boingo.

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Boingo is one of those services that can be indispensable, especially for those who enjoy a mobile lifestyle. It provides access to public Wi-Fi hotspots that otherwise carry a high price for short term connectivity. I travel a bit and work mobile a lot, so I’ve found the $10/monthly Boingo to be money well spent. I’ve gotten good value from my Boingo plan, but I ran into a situation on the trip to Orlando that has me rethinking the worth of this recurring fee.

My usage of the Boingo service has been predictable: it has gotten me online in many different coffee shops, primarily Starbucks, and in airports while traveling. The Orlando trip was no exception as I was able to use Boingo in the airport to get online and work. It even came in handy in the hotel in Orlando, as the venue was one of those charging an exorbitant rate for connectivity in the room. The hotel didn’t even have free Wi-Fi connectivity in public areas (like the lobby) as many do. To get online in the hotel would easily cost $20/day in the room and public work areas.

I was thrilled to learn that the hotel hotspots were accessible through Boingo, since I’m paying for that already. I was able to get online in the room and anywhere in the hotel through the Boingo roaming agreement. You’d think that would eliminate any doubt I had about the worth of that monthly fee for Boingo, but that’s not the case.

The Boingo plan I have is the unlimited laptop plan. It’s $9.95/month and lets me get one laptop at a time on the Boingo roaming network for as long as needed. I was able to get my MacBook on the hotel network through Boingo at no additional cost to me. The problem I ran into was with the iPad. I frequently wanted to jump online with the iPad, rather than pulling the laptop out of the bag. This is a strength of the iPad, the ability to grab it and quickly get online to check email or other stuff on the web.

Unfortunately I couldn’t do that with the Boingo plan I have as the iPad is considered a smartphone by the company. Boingo offers three plans in the U.S.: laptop (which I have); smartphone only (which includes the iPad); and a Combo plan that works with both laptops and smartphones. The Combo plan would have let me use both the laptop and iPad as needed, and even the EVO 4G if desired. The problem is this plan is $17.95/monthly, which is too much for the limited times I would use it.

The most use I get out of Boingo is in Starbucks, as I work there a lot. This alone has made the $10 I pay each month worth the price of the Boingo plan I have. On July 1 that won’t be necessary, as all U.S. Starbucks will offer the Wi-Fi connectivity for free. It’s no fault of Boingo, but I suspect I’m not the only customer wondering if it will still be worth the $10 with free connectivity in Starbucks. In my case probably not, but it’s definitely not worth the $18 for the combo plan. I find I use the iPad pretty hard while mobile, and I can’t get online with the cheaper Boingo plan anyway. That has me rethinking the value of the plan I have now.

On the trip this week I was forced to use the EVO 4G mobile hotspot capability to get the iPad online, even in my hotel room. Orlando doesn’t have a 4G network to tap into, but the Sprint 3G network was plenty fast enough. I got decent bandwidth on the iPad, so much so I quickly forgot I wasn’t on the Boingo connection. I could have shared this EVO hotspot with up to 8 devices, so in fact the Boingo connectivity wasn’t really needed. That has me seriously thinking of canceling the Boingo plan and going with free hotspots and the EVO connectivity. Note that I don’t travel outside the U.S. so this would work fine for me, as Sprint has at least 3G coverage everywhere I work and play.

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  1. I think that the difference between laptop and smartphone (in terms of functionality) will blur significantly in the next few years. I think a smartphone could suffice as the main computer for most people (the same people for who a netbook would be enough). The only thing a smartphone needs is video output (to connect to a large monitor when at a desk) and a keyboard/mouse (also when at a desk). Hopefully, wifi plans like yours will also recognize this continual blurring of “computer” and “smartphone”.

  2. Just a thought, surely the only way that Boingo can detect the device that is connecting is via its browser agent?

    If you can change the browser agent in mobile safari on the iPad to something like Internet Explorer then maybe, just maybe, you won’t run into the issue?

    Its a work around admittedly and not a permanent fix but hey worth a shot?

    1. Perhaps, but it still doesn’t get around the fact that my common venue for using the service is going free. That’s got to be a big concern for Boingo.

      1. Starbucks has been free (2 hrs a day) for Sbux card users for a long time. Don’t quite see the point of using Boingo at Starbucks. And then I thought you carry around one of them newfangled mifi thingies, or at least you write a lot about it.

  3. Kevin C. Tofel Thursday, June 24, 2010

    I’m in the same boat with Boingo since I have a MiFi as well as the portable hotspot function for free on my Nexus One thanks to Froyo. But there is a 4th option for those that want it on the iPad: Boingo WiFi Credits at $1.99 an hour.

    http://jkontherun.com/2010/03/29/purchase-boingo-hourly-wi-fi-access-on-ipad-at-launch/

    Obviously it’s up to each individual if that pricing is worth it, but good to have in a pinch on iPad.

    1. That’s a good point on the hourly option. Unfortunately on my trip I was constantly wanting to take the iPad out and check something. Those hours would have added up big time. :)

      It was so easy to hit the mobile hotspot button on the EVO and get online in 5 seconds.

  4. GoodThings2Life Thursday, June 24, 2010

    I’ve really been enjoying my EVO 4G, and once I rooted it for “free” wifi tethering capabilities, now my $10 premium data fee is now providing a $20 savings on my use of tethering. Some may feel like that’s cheating, but I don’t have 4G coverage, so if I’m paying for PREMIUM data then by God I’m going to USE my premium data!

  5. I’ve been getting 2 free wi-fi hours per day at Starbucks for a long time as one of the benefits of having their cards. After 2 hours I’m ready for a change of venue. But that doesn’t help in places like Atlanta’s airport where they don’t allow Starbucks or anyone else to offer “free” wifi. That’s when the EVO, or my Pre before that, comes in handy.

    By the way, I had my first 4G hotspotting experience over the past few days in Salt Lake City. The city isn’t officially on yet, but they must be testing. Definitely worth the extra $$, for me at least.

  6. If you’re using your laptop anyway, you can use connectify to share the connection.

  7. The Boingo laptop plan was never meant to work with the iPad, so I really don’t understand what you’re complaining about again James. Paying for one device but expect to connect two? Nada.

    That said, I would expect iPhone/iPad connectivity to come in the form of an app. Boingo would be smart to release one, but you have to agree the iPad has been out only a very short time. They would also have to come out with new pricing, but given that free wifi is becoming so predominant, I doubt Boingo will be making any changes for the foreseeable future.

    Also, you don’t need to wait for stores like Starbucks to offer free wifi – my AT&T DSL account already gives me free wifi at multiple locations, while my TMO wireless account does the same, and I get that connectivity on ANY device.

    For your circumstances, I would keep the EVO 4G and just use your smartphone for data. It’s already doing the job of your overdrive modem for half the cost and you don’t need to carry an extra device or pay for wifi.

  8. Dr. Roland Kehr Thursday, June 24, 2010

    In rereading Jame’s blog, it is clear that he was not trying to use two devices at the same time on his Boingo account. He stated in so many words that rather than pull out and fire up his laptop, he just wanted to use his iPad by itself as he was already using it for other purposes.

  9. James Kendrick Thursday, June 24, 2010

    Boingo sent the following statement in reference to this post:

    “You actually can use your unlimited account with the iPad, but you have to log in via the “Roaming” login of the web page. You can’t use the iPad software applications. The iPad applications (Boingo Mobile and Boingo WiFi Credits) are required to get the preferential Mobile pricing because they identify the user as being on a “device” instead of a laptop, which changes our roaming costs with the hotspot owner (allowing us to charge you less for getting online). If you log in via the web page, it will recognize a laptop account regardless of the device you’re using.

    “We’re actively looking at the challenges associated with the increasing usage complexities of the marketplace. The line between computer and phone has become very, very blurry. As users blend their online activity across multiple devices, we’re working to find new ways to support those more complicated usage scenarios at a reasonable price that still covers our wholesale cost exposure. The world is changing, and we realize our plans need to evolve. Know that we’re actively working to meet our customers’ needs. Stay tuned. ”

  10. James,
    I’m using the heck out of boingo on iPad in France right now. I’m using the iPhone app on the iPad to connect, not the boingo credit app. It is working just fine.

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