It has been two years in the making, but the Big Apple is finally ready to put its free public Wi-Fi plan to action. In this plan, the city will transform old pay phones into Internet and information kiosks, providing Wi-fi hotspots for New Yorkers (and visitors).
New York City is acquiring the services of CityBridge, a consortium of several companies that include Qualcomm and Transit Wireless. This consortium is tasked with upgrading the more or less 10,000 outdoor pay phones located in NYC's five boroughs, and turning them into hip, new Internet stations called Links.
Once the installation of the Internet stations is done, the resulting network will be aptly called LinkNYC. Basically, it will provide free (but ad-supported) broadband service to all inhabitants and visitors of the global city.
The city is saying that LinkNYC will be capable of gigabit speeds. That remains to be seen for now, but still, this is an awesome plan and an equally ambitious undertaking.
Many expect LinkNYC to use 802.11ac Wi-Fi technologies, which in theory is capable of supporting speeds of more than a gigabit -- that is, as long as the connecting smartphone or any mobile device is equipped with the right radio or antenna. Unfortunately, there are only a few of those devices that exist today.
Also, there may be potential bottleneck issues in the network. Unless the city is connecting every Link station with fiber, it could experience a bottleneck once the connection leaves the air and goes to ground. Fibers are not totally out of the picture, but we are talking about old pay phones after all, most of which use copper phone connections. That means they could be easily turned into DSL lines.
The good thing about LinkNYC is that it will not just provide W-Fi onto streets, parks, and other public places in the city. Each Link kiosk will be equipped with an embedded touchscreen Android tablet. Using this device, pedestrians will be able to access city information, data on events, or even get directions to the nearest pizza place.
NYC has already stated that these kiosks will be able to place 911 and 311 calls. But CityBridge is taking it a full step further. Users will also be able to make a domestic call from the kiosks to any recipient located within the 50 states with the use of a direction speaker and a microphone.
Plus, the kiosks will feature USB slots for people to charge their smartphones and tablets. On the street-facing side of each kiosk will feature a large digital screen where public service announcements and ads will be shown.
The city expects to set up the first of the 10,000 kiosks in 2015. There is no word yet about any completion dates, but once these Internet stations go online, we might have a better idea by then.
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