Westwood-Based Boingo Wireless Partners with AT&T to Bring 5G+ To a Growing List of US Airports

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Westwood-Based Boingo Wireless Partners with AT&T to Bring 5G+ To a Growing List of US Airports
Photo by Upal Patel on Unsplash

As airlines start to pick back up, the demand for fast internet connectivity in travel hubs is expected to become a central concern for travelers. And that bodes well for Boingo Wireless, the Wi-Fi company that might sound vaguely familiar to anyone who's ever been in an airport or a ballpark and needed a network.

In the innovation-obsessed battleground that is the tech world, Boingo is an old, grizzled veteran.

They're an infrastructure company — one of those things that's everywhere but you never notice until it stops working.

With Boingo's networks in use in places including The Hollywood Bowl, the company continues to be a main portal to the digital world for Angelenos and the rest of the world. Boingo claims its networks reach more than one billion consumers a year and there's an upgrade coming, for all those frustrated with bad signals.

Early in June this year, DigitalBridge, a digital infrastructure company based in Boca Raton, FL, purchased the two-decade-old Boingo for $854 million. The move will help the 463-person Westwood-based wireless company build its operational expertise and gain access to capital to "supercharge" its business.

"We're still Boingo. It's business as usual," said Boingo CEO Mike Finley in an email to dot.LA.

But that business is getting a makeover to match the superspeed demands of consumers streaming, texting and sharing posts - often at the same time. Boingo announced last week a new partnership with AT&T to bring the telecommunications giant's new 5G+ technology to 12 airports across America, including John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Chicago O'Hare International.

Of course, the network will only be available to AT&T customers, but Boingo has already partnered with Verizon for similar networks in other airports and unlicensed Wi-Fi options are available at all these airports through Boingo's network.

The company's vision is to remain technology and provider agnostic, said Finley.

But don't expect perfect service.

Both Wi-Fi and cellular signals, at their core, are radio waves. AT&T's 5G+ leverages the shortest end of the radio wave spectrum to deliver extremely fast internet with extremely low latency to large numbers of devices at once. The catch is that these smaller wavelengths do not travel as far and do not penetrate walls or other barriers very well, meaning the technology works best in open indoor spaces. How much of these airports in terms of volume will be covered by 5G+, Finley said, is a matter of how many antennas AT&T chooses to install. "I think they're going to start with the high traffic areas—you know, the gates, where you have three or four hundred people getting ready to board a plane." Food courts and security checkpoints also seem like natural targets, he said Finley.

The other catch is that hardly any devices support 5G+ connectivity yet. "This is a plan for the future," says Dr. Kevin Ramdas, Director at TelecomTRAIN, and a professor at Humber College. Ramdas says that, for now, this announcement is mostly marketing hype since so few users will be able to leverage the power of the new technology. But he also points out that networks and technology are the foundation on which innovation is built. We don't necessarily yet know what applications 5G will allow just like we didn't know that 4G LTE would enable live video streaming. "You can't build services without infrastructure," Ramdas says.

Beyond Wi-Fi Signals

One domain that Finley and Ramdas both see as ripe for 5G is autonomous vehicles. Airports, Finley says, are beginning to explore the concept of robotic cleaners — like an industrial-grade Roomba. The low latency afforded by the next generation Wi-Fi will be critical to keep the robots functioning safely and securely. Finley also thinks the improved network will help airports meet many of the new client demands driven by COVID. Specifically, he points to the new desire for contactless services like venue entry and concessions. With tickets, boarding passes, concession and merchandise orders all moving away from person-to-person models and onto devices, COVID has — in some ways — brought the future here even faster.

For Finley, who grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, the move to Los Angeles came organically as he transitioned from Qualcomm's San Diego branch to a CEO at Boingo.

"L.A.'s been incredible. We've built this company up from L.A. What we find as you go across LA and meet with a lot of the tech companies is that it's a great scene." If Finley has his way, he'll be there to keep them connected with the nearly invisible Wi-Fi company with the weird name.

Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously included Los Angeles International Airport and Dodger Stadium among Boingo's clients, as reported by a company representative.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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Is AI Making the Creative Class Obsolete?

Steve Huff
Steve Huff is an Editor and Reporter at dot.LA. Steve was previously managing editor for The Metaverse Post and before that deputy digital editor for Maxim magazine. He has written for Inside Hook, Observer and New York Mag. Steve is the author of two official tie-ins books for AMC’s hit “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul.” He’s also a classically-trained tenor and has performed with opera companies and orchestras all over the Eastern U.S. He lives in the greater Boston metro area with his wife, educator Dr. Dana Huff.
​AI face surrounded by art
image courtesy of Andria Moore

As artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, AI image and writing generators are becoming more widespread, even taking on creative tasks some once thought uniquely human.

These tools have limitations. AI-created images sometimes appear half-finished (look no further than DALL-E’s early renderings of faces), and AI-generated writing can sound like garble written by, well, a robot.

The surge in AI use for creative work like copywriting and developing art has some in the creative fields concerned about losing their jobs, going the way of the traditional animator at Pixar. Reports like one published in 2021 by San Mateo-based job discovery platform Zippia don’t help with statements like, “AI could take the jobs of as many as one billion people globally and make 375 million jobs obsolete over the next decade” and “half of all companies currently utilize AI in some fashion.”

Using AI to create open-source art available to the masses wasn’t on the radar for many until the release of the text-to-image creator DALL-E Mini last summer. The release coincided with the Washington Post’s profile of Google engineer Blake Lemoine, who claimed Google’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LAMDA) was sentient.

AI innovations like GPT-3—a large language model which uses deep learning to produce original text—are touted as solutions to a host of problems with little discussion about drawbacks or limitations. One notable example is the widely-used writing assistant Grammarly, which uses a combination of artificial intelligence techniques, including deep learning and natural language processing.

Hour One’s Natalie Monbiot says creatives shouldn’t be concerned about AI.

“It's normal to feel anxious about it, and it will be a realistic concern for those whose actual work can be done more cheaply, quickly, and consistently via machines,” says Monbiot, who is head of strategy for the avatar video generation platform.

“These new technologies are new tools,” she says, like “the pen, the typewriter, computers, and so on.”

Monbiot says that as AI becomes more instrumental to creators’ work, “there will be a higher premium on creativity (which is distinctly human) and less on execution.”

Kris Ruby of Ruby Media Group, a PR agency, tells dot.LA that users go wrong with AI writing products by trusting them to produce finished work. That “is not how the tools are supposed to be used,” Ruby says.

According to Ruby, users of text-to-image generation tools like DALL-E Mini and Midjourney make the mistake of “calculating the cost of the software subscription…but not the number of hours it takes to get even one useable image.”

Austin-based Jasper.ai’s CEO Dave Rogenmoser says these applications “eliminate the mundane elements of the content creation process.” Jasper develops multiple AI-powered writing tools and recently added a text-to-image creator to its suite.

“It isn’t a replacement for creators or the creative process,” he says, “rather, it’s a trusty sidekick in the content process that helps bring ideas to life faster and in a more efficient way.”

San Francisco-based Writer.com is an AI writing assistant focused on corporate clients. Its CEO, May Habib, tells dot.LA that creators have more to gain from the tools than they have to lose.

“Like any tool, it is about depth: AI writing tools are most powerful in the hands of those who are already pretty skilled, but still pretty useful for everyone,” Habib says.

“We don’t think AI is going to take away real writing jobs,” she continues, “but it will speed up ideation and drafting.”

Is there a danger of overselling AI before it can meet companies’ expectations?

Habib’s answer? Absolutely. Consumers should not expect artificial intelligence to solve all their problems. Applications powered by AI “can’t feel like magic,” she says; they have to “feel like technology."

AI expert Mikaela Pisani is the Chief Data Scientist for Los Angeles-based Rootstrap, which develops apps for startups. Asked if it was realistic for creators to worry about losing jobs to artificial intelligence, Pisani says, “AI is becoming increasingly creative” and “can help creatives generate content ideas at scale.”

When it comes to fears that AI might replace creators, Pisani notes that “Creativity is defined as 'the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas.’”

“To think outside of the box is implicitly hard to do for machines,” Pisani says, “since AI are trained on available information. Therefore, our creative brain won't be replaced by AI in the near future, since it is too challenging for machines to recreate innovation. By extension, AI does not create a final piece of art, but it can be used as a co-creator.”

Pisani’s perspective isn’t that different from execs behind AI-fueled startups. She says that because artificial intelligence can “multitask rapidly, it could also be a source of inspiration for artists.”

“Writers, musicians, designers, or artists,” Pisani continues, “shouldn't be afraid of being replaced but should make themselves aware of these AI tools that can help their creativity reach a new level of scale."

So far, the consensus seems to be that AI is just an instrument, not a replacement for human artistry.

It’s still early, though, and artificial intelligence use is evolving fast. Just last week, Vanity Fair reported that 91-year-old James Earl Jones is retiring from voicing Darth Vader for future Star Wars shows and movies. His replacement? Respeecher, AKA “voice cloning powered by artificial intelligence.” The Ukraine-based company says its product “leverages recent revolutionary advances in artificial intelligence” to create “voice swaps [that] are virtually indistinguishable from the original — and never sound robotic.”

One thing seems clear: AI is here to stay.