Today, the New York City mayor's office announced the winning bid to transform the city's existing payphone infrastructure. LinkNYC will bring free gigabit Wi-Fi connectivity to some 7000 street towers. It's one of the largest and most ambitious citywide Wi-Fi networks in the world.
Earlier this year, New York put out a request for proposals for plans to overhaul the existing payphone system, which is decrepit and frankly, not that useful any more. LinkNYC will bring blazing fast connectivity and other services in the form of 28cm slim aluminium stands called "Links".
In addition to an antenna providing 46m Wi-Fi radius, the 3m towers will have a built-in Android tablets with series of pre-loaded apps, as well as a charging station for your personal gear. And of course, the Links are still phones, except now instead of popping in a quarter, you'll be able to make free calls to the 50 US states. (Three old-fashioned pay phones will be maintained as a throwback to the past.)
The Links will be deployed in all five boroughs. The first ones will go in places where there's already phones, but others won't because many of the current locations aren't even that useful to begin with. According to the terms of the contract, we'll see 500 roll out by late 2015, and there will be be 4000 within four years. Each of those milestones requires Links in every borough, so it's not like this is just going to service the rich folk of Manhattan. By the time it's all done there could be as many as 10,000.
As with the payphones of yore, the new Links will be huge advertisements. The expected cost of the rollout is $US200 million but supposedly, but the Links will generate $US500 million for the city over 12 years. As part of the deal though, NYC will be allowed to use the displays for public service announcements. The towers will come in two flavours: One for commercial spaces, and a more discreet one for residential areas so you don't have a bright flashing advertising screen blowing up your quiet block.
The winning bid comes form a company called City Bridge, a partnership of companies consisting of the advertising company Titan, the design firm Control Group, Qualcomm, and the hardware manufacturer Comark.
Titan is currently the biggest payphone operator in New York, and will be in charge of maintaining all of the Links. This includes a mandatory twice a week visit to every single one to make sure its working that it hasn't been defaced by vandals. You'll recall Control Group is the consultancy behind the interface design for NYC's awesome digital subway map kiosks. Comark will build the actual Links themselves, and work with Qualcomm on implementing the connectivity technology.
Obviously this plan comes raises concerns about privacy. We're assured that all of the user data collected will be anonymized so that it can't be traced back to you. Of course, the operators will still have to comply with government requests the same way your ISP would have to.
LinkNYC sounds awesome, and given the partners involved, there's a good chance that it will be successful. Still, given how many people there are in New York, there will definitely be hiccups along the way, and I'm certainly not looking forward to fighting for bandwidth with everyone else in the city.