New York City Phone Booths Reborn as Wi-Fi Hotspots

Will the entire borough of Manhattan soon have Wi-Fi access?

Now that 83% of Americans have cell phones, you might wonder what the telephone companies are planning to do with those boxes that people used to stand inside to make phone calls. What are those called again? Oh, right . . . phone booths!

Well, New York City has 13,000 of them rotting like a terrestrial version of space junk. That is, until last week, when the city announced a pilot program to turn the payphone kiosks into Wi-Fi hotspots. At the moment, just 10 phone booths will undergo the transformation. But if the program is successful, phone companies could be sponsoring hotspots all over New York and, potentially, other cities.

Currently, there are 13 companies that own the public phones, but Verizon owns about 30% of them, so this could be a new business opportunity for the company. The initial phone booths used will not have ads, but they could be ad-supported in the future to keep the service free for users. If the pilot program is successful, the entire city could soon be wireless.

Some of the technical logistics were released and discussed on GigaOM:

The payphones have been outfitted with “military grade” antennas, that provide service up to 300 feet away. The $2,000 installation is being provided for free by Van Wagner Communications, which owns many of the city’s payphones. The plan is to eventually spread the Wi-Fi hotspots to more of the city’s 13,000 payphones with the maintenance and ongoing costs paid by the payphone companies.

Read the full article here.

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GigaOM is one of StateTech's Must-Read State and Local Government IT blogs.

Jul 25 2012