New York City’s Iconic Payphones to Become Free Wi-Fi Hotspots

Last year more than two dozen solar powered charging stations were installed in various public parks across New York. What if the city took connectivity to another level?

By Veronica Grecu, Associate Editor

LinkNYC Hotspot – rendering

After Superstorm Sandy left entire blocks in the city with no power for several days, a partnership between the Bloomberg administration and AT&T resulted in an environmentally friendly solution to keep New Yorkers connected. Remember last year when more than two dozen solar powered charging stations were installed in various public parks across New York City? Each charging unit has three, 15-watt solar panels on top and is able to fully charge 30 mobile devices before running out of power. The charging stations can be used free of charge by anyone, no matter what telecom company they use.

But what if the city took connectivity to another level? A new partnership, this time consisting of the DeBlasio administration and CityBridge, will reinvent New York City’s iconic public payphones into wireless internet hubs. Currently there are only 6,400 payphones left in the city, according to Crain’s New York Business, down from around 35,000 in early 1990s.

CityBridge—a private consortium including outdoor advertisement company Titan, digital consulting firm Control Group, chip maker and internet technologies provider Qualcomm, and hardware manufacturer Comark—was selected by the city to develop the $200 million project called LinkNYC, the fastest and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world. LinkNYC will cover all five boroughs and will be implemented at zero costs to taxpayers. Citybridge plans to finance the project by selling digital advertising space at each internet hub, and the wireless internet network is expected to generate more than $500 million in revenue for New York City over the next 12 years.

LinkNYC Hotspot in Manhattan – rendering

Construction of the free internet network will begin in early 2015. As reported by CNET, the first 500 Wi-Fi hotspots called Links will become operational by the end of the year, and CityBridge is expected to build around 4,000 Links over the next four years, with the remaining 6,000 Links to be installed in the following years until the contract expires.

Apart from offering non-stop, free and super-fast internet access, the Links will allow free phone calls to 911 and anywhere in the country. Each hotspot will be 9.5 feet tall and will come with a 150-foot Wi-Fi radius, a built-in Android tablet to access City services, a cell phone charging station and digital display for advertising and public service announcements.

“It is fantastic that New York City is moving our communications infrastructure into the 21st century. With lightning-fast free Wi-Fi, mobile phone charging ports, free local calling and more, public payphones are transforming into a neighborhood asset. With real community input to select site locations, this new technology will reach New Yorkers where they need and want it,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer in a prepared statement .

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Renderings via LinkNYC