Reader Question: Are There Caps on Boingo Wireless Wi-Fi Usage?


Image 1 for post Boingo in the airport( 2008-09-19 23:34:10) Earlier this morning, I met one of our readers in the local Starbucks (s SBUX). I did have my USB 727 adapter for 3G, but I opted to use my new Boingo Wireless account with Wi-Fi instead. I signed up for the $9.99 monthly plan about two-weeks ago and I’m making use of it a few times per week. I’ll share more on my why I’m not using my 3G adapter in the near future. For now, I wanted to circle back to a relevant reader question from Luscious: a frequent and insightful commenter who also has a blog devoted to notebook reviews and information.

Luscious asked me about bandwidth limits on the Boing plans. That’s a great question because as anyone who uses 3G likely knows, “unlimited” data plans are often capped at 5GB per month.

I didn’t notice any limits in my plan’s Terms of Service, so I checked in with Jeremy Pepper from Boingo on this topic. Here’s the deal:

  • There are no usage caps in the Americas, so for us, the Boingo Unlimited plan at $9.95 per month is truly unlimited in the U.S. and Canada.
  • The $59 monthly Boingo Global account is indeed limited, but not by bandwidth as the cellular 3G plans are. Due to the traditional European business model, these plans offer 2,000 minutes of usage.
  • I didn’t ask about the $7.95 Boingo Mobile plan for handsets, but the product page makes it pretty clear that it’s unlimited like the $9.95 per month laptop plan. In fact, it appears that you can use it in more countries than that plan as well.
  • Jeremy tells me that bandwidth is also “shaped” a little in airports that Boingo operates at, but that’s to ensure a positive experience for everyone in those locations. He also offers the caveat that like any network, the more folks that use it, the more the existing bandwidth is shared, so experiences are clearly going to vary.

So far, I feel the $9.95 monthly plan is worth the expense. Although I’m limited to Boingo Wi-Fi locations, it is one-sixth the price of the EV-DO plan that provides Internet access anywhere there’s coverage. One tidbit that I’d like to throw to the Boingo folks as food for thought: why not a dual-plan that supports both laptops and handsets? I’d like to see my one account be used on my choice of a notebook / netbook or on a handset: say for $12.95 per month. Sometimes I’m in a Boingo network area, but either didn’t bring a notebook or don’t want to boot up just to check in on things with my handset for 15 minutes. I could have two Boingo accounts, but that would be overkill for me; a hybrid plan at just a few dollars more would be appealing.


Alex Whiteside

Since when were “minutes” the “traditional European business model”? Everyone over here charges by bandwidth on 3G plans. The only place you’ll get charged by the minute is at wi-fi hotspots, even then, unlimited day-, week-, or month-long passes seem to have become the norm.


You still have any phones on T-Mobile? $10 gets you unlimited HotSpot (Starbucks, many airports, etc) PLUS unlimited WiFi domestic calling (if you have a UMA phone like Melissa’s Blackberry Curve 2). Great deal! Although, I still need my Sprint 3G card. I have it on the friends & family plan, so it’s $50/mo instead of $60. It’s a lot, but well worth it to me.

Dave Zatz

Seems like you had a Dash just yesterday… :)

I should also mention I have a Starbucks Gold (black) card which gets me that WiFi. Though the benefit seems the same as the regular debit card – 2hrs/day, purchases every 30 days. Maybe I should resell some of my wireless access.


You just need to buy 6 drinks at SBux each month to get 12 hrs of free WiFi per day. I have two accounts (one technically my wife’s) and virtually never need the second one.


Great! That means I can use a 1TB drive hooked up to my pogoplug and backup my files while I’m out in the field. It’s good to not have to worry about hitting any cap when doing a 100MB+ software update either.

Thanks for the plug Kevin!!! Next time you’re in LA hit me up. I’m buying you lunch.

Kevin C. Tofel

Looks like you’re good to go with that PogoPlug. ;) No need to thank me: we love sharing sites that we think the community will enjoy and benefit from.


Hmm, Starbucks/ATT offer free WiFi if you have one of those prepaid Sbux cards. Why pay Boingo?

Kevin C. Tofel

The pre-paid Starbucks cards are only good for 2 hours of Wi-Fi per day. For some folks, that’s plenty. When I’m running around and working, that’s not enough for me. Boingo is also good at Barnes & Noble, McDonalds, various hotels and airports. It all depends on where you want to work and how for how long.


Who says you can have only one card? ;)

Besides, it’s been a while since I spent more than two hours at Starbucks. Mostly I go to some local independent coffee shops anyway (that all offer free WiFi), but even then two hours is pretty much my limit. And you won’t find me in a McDonalds (how do you get the grease off your screen afterwards?).

All that said, I don’t disagree that $9.95 is a great price for those who need it. I wish their international plan was more affordable, though. And what does the “traditional European business model” have to do with a *Global* plan? Is Boingo now a European company? 2000 minutes sounds generous until you do the math and find it’s only 33 hrs… So you’d better be careful not to fall asleep while connected in your hotel…


Oliver, that is a brilliant hack. X Starbucks drinks a month / X pre-pard cards = 2X hours of wifi a day. Two drinks a month should cover anyone other than those guys who make Starbucks their office.


Does the Boingo unlimited plan limit you to notebooks? I thought their low-cost “mobile” plan was limited to handhelds, but not the other way around.

Kevin C. Tofel

As far as I know, the $9.95 plan is for computers, while the $7.95 plan is for handhelds. I don’t believe you can use the $9.95 plan for both a computer and a handheld.


That’s pretty lame, although I guess it’s fair since most standalone wifi plans run twice the price. Still, between your suggestion and having both an unlimited and a mobile account, that’s only a $5 difference. (And only $2 between two accounts and other unlimited plans that don’t restrict devices.)

Ricky B

Now I’m really curious; how can they differentiate between the two? And where do they draw the line?

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