Author(s): Raghu Gopal
New York's public Wi-Fi network went live this week.
Back in 2014, CCS Insight wrote about New York City's plan to convert its legacy telephone booths into 21st-century connectivity hubs (see Daily Insight: A Municipal Wi-Fi Wake-up Call?). We've witnessed the failure of similar initiatives in the past, but were cautiously optimistic about the project thanks to recent advances in infrastructure and current demand for bandwidth.
LinkNYC is run by the City of New York together with CityBridge — a consortium of experts in technology, media, connectivity and user experience that includes CiviQ, Intersection, Qualcomm and Smartscapes. The group will begin replacing thousands of pay phones with the free Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the five boroughs of New York City, with 500 expected to be installed by July 2016 and a total of about 7,500 on completion. The hubs offer a wireless range of up to 150 feet from the kiosk, and each is equipped with USB charging ports and a custom-built tablet for Web browsing.
The project stands to create the largest public free municipal Wi-Fi system in the world. Many cities have tried tackling the concept for connected towns and cities, but success has been limited owing to unexpected complexities in building out the networks.
CityBridge hopes to deliver broadband speeds of 1,000 Mbps — about 100 times the typical speeds provided by wireless carriers — and is looking to make the project self-funding by raising over $500 million through advertisements.
The potential for problems like hacking will be a test for municipal Wi-Fi, but the group has built in a number of safeguards to protect against the usual security threats associated with public networks. However, users will still be encouraged to exercise caution when browsing.
LinkNYC's high speeds and free cost may be enough to convince a small proportion of post-paid subscribers to depend on public hubs for their data connectivity. Free Wi-Fi should make a dent in the digital divide that's prevalent in the city, potentially democratizing Internet access.