While the days of crazy-eyed, quarter-clutching New Yorkers crowding around public pay phones — hey buddy, think you can hurry it up? — are a thing of a past, a just-announced communications scheme for all five boroughs may usher in a new wave of jostling and shade-throwing at curbside kiosks.
There, is however, one huge difference: No quarters or calling collect will be involved.
Unlike a pilot initiative in London in which a handful of the city’s iconic phone booths have been painted green and converted into solar-powered gadget-charging stations, New York City’s $200 million LinkNYC initiative won’t be an instance of adaptive reuse as many headlines about the project might have you believe.
Instead, more than 7,000 of the city’s existing outdoor pay phones will be completely removed and replaced with so-called Links: Wi-Fi-emitting charging stations where the public can make free domestic calls and access a range of city services via built-in Android tablets. The handy-dandy touch-screen displays will also provide directions and maps to bewildered tourists (and New Yorkers who don’t venture forth from their home boroughs very often). What’s more, each ADA-compliant Link station will include a tactile keypad with Braille lettering, a dedicated 911 button and a headphone jack. And then there’s the all-important USB charging for users in need of a quick battery boost.
It’s unclear what exactly will become of the old pay phones — whether they'll be upcycled, landfilled, auctioned off or sent to a warehouse to collect dust. (The last two scenarios are the most likely.) As reported by The New York Times, a trio of glass-enclosed, freestanding “Superman-style” relics will be granted a reprieve and remain stationed on West End Avenue on the Upper West Side for Bill & Ted-themed photo-opps and clandestine tête-à-têtes.
A sizable army of (eventually) 10,000 LinkNYC wireless hotspots, slender and statuesque at nearly 10-feet-tall, will be the key component of what Mayor Bill de Blasio describes as the “largest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world.”
A 24/7 "Link" hub in Manhattan's Flatiron district. (Rendering: CityBridge)
They didn't forget about you, Staten Island. (Rendering: CityBridge)
And the network, available 24/7, will be fast — 100 times faster than the average municipal Wi-Fi system and 20 times more speedy than average home Internet services according to the city’s Department of Information and Telecommunications. When connected to the LinkNYC network, a two-hour HD movie can be downloaded in a mere 30 seconds. Impressive stuff.
And while the fancy new aluminum kiosks — pardon, “iconically designed connection points” — may generate crowds (the free charging station feature is sure to be a hot commodity), users looking to connect to free Internet needn’t necessarily be standing directly in front of the pylons as the wireless signal emitted by each hub will extend 150 feet in any direction. According to the Times, as many as 250 wireless devices can be simultaneously connected to the network at an individual LinkNYC kiosk before wireless service slows.
CityBridge, the entity that won the bid to install the gadget-charging Wi-Fi hubs is actually a consortium of four companies including New York-based technology design firm Control Group, smartphone chip manufacturer Qualcomm, interactive hardware specialist Commark and outdoor advertising firm Titan. The companies will split 50 percent of advertising revenues brought in by the Links (they’ll each be outfitted with digital screens for displaying "insight-driven and intelligently programmed" ads and PSAs) with the city.
“Extended” members of the CityBridge team include Antenna Design, the studio responsible for the actual physical design of the hubs and Transit Wireless, the company that will oversee the high-speed fiber infrastructure of the LinkNYC network.
It’s expected that the scheme will generate an estimated $500 million in ad revenue for the city over the first 12 years. New York City taxpayers will not in any way foot the bill and the development and installation of the snazzy, ad-flashing beanstalks, designed and produced within New York City, is expected to create hundreds of jobs in the manufacturing, technology and advertising sectors.
A residential Link in leafy Brooklyn. (Rendering: CityBridge)
A commercial Link in not-so-leafy Brooklyn. (Rendering: CityBridge)
"LinkNYC will fundamentally transform New York City and set the standard for responsive cities for years to come," said Control Group chief operating officer Colin O’ Donnell during a press statement. “This will be completely unlimited access. We're going through all this effort to bring massive bandwidth to the streets and we really want to see people use it. So, we're going to bring that connectivity and get out of the way."
If you’re a sentimental type who wants to experience a real-life New York City public pay phone before they start to disappear, you better grab that hand sanitizer and act quick. CityBridge plans to have the first 500 Link stations up and running by the end of 2015. And if you're a superhero who requires frequent quick costume changes, a pregnant woman who suspects your husband is a member of a satanic cult or if you frequently find yourself under attack by seagulls, you should probably consider relocating to the Upper West Side.
Via [New York Times]
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