Wi-Fi-based pay phones in New York City

NYC transforms pay phones into Wi-Fi network

New York City this week chose a consortium of technology firms to install thousands of multi-function, Wi-Fi-based pay phones across the city to offer citizens free gigabit Wi-Fi as well as free calls across the United States.

City officials said when installed the system will be the largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world.

Construction of the network, called LinkNYC, will begin next year, the city said in announcing the project, and will work toward a goal of installing as many as 10,000 systems across the city. Up to 250 devices will be able to connect to each Wi-Fi network at a given time.

In addition to telecom services, the phone stations will be equipped with touch-screens with access to city services, maps and directions for tourists, as well as charging connections for electronic gear.  Direct connections to city police, emergency responders and public safety message alerts will also be wired in.

“For years, the question was, ‘What to do with payphones?’ and now we have an answer,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio when initially announcing plans for the network in May.

“The digital age holds great potential to better deliver services, and by reimagining 20th century payphones as 21st century connection points, we’re making broadband access more equitable and accessible to every New Yorker,” added Maya Wiley, counsel to the mayor.

The system will be supported in part by digital advertising, which the providers say will generate $500 million over the next 12 years.

CityBridge, the group that will set up the network, includes telecom provider Qualcomm, Comark Inc., which designs ruggedized computer for automation and control systems, and an “experience design” firm called the Control Group.

Under the contract, the Wi-Fi service must be provided 24/7 with a signal strong enough to reach a minimum of 85 feet across a busy street, and the hotspots should work together as a network. Although the Wi-Fi network is called a gigabit-speed network, no details about what Wi-Fi standard will be used to drive the network have been released, according to a report on The Verge.

In setting up requirements for the network, the planners envisioned it as more than a convenience for busy New Yorkers and tourists. Instead, they expected the Wi-Fi links to support job seekers and others in need of low-cost Internet access.

“Internet access needs to be more readily available to the public, and reinventing payphones to include free Wi-Fi is a terrific way to do that,” said New York City council member James Vacca, chair of the committee on technology, in a release.

“Due to the widespread use of cellphones, payphones, as they currently exist, no longer provide significant assistance to New Yorkers. However, by modernizing this infrastructure and utilizing the latest technological advancements, we could provide vital services to hundreds of thousands of residents.” 

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