If you’ve ever seen the payphones that litter the streets of New York City and wonder if anyone actually uses them, a lot more people will be using them soon. NYC is currently in the process of replacing the payphones with 9.5 ft towers that provide free high speed wifi as well as charging ports for mobile devices. NYC is on track to have 500 of these wifi spots by July and plans to eventually have 7,500 units installed throughout the city. The units are run by CityBridge and is funded by Alphabet Inc. which is Google’s parent company. The units will also additionally be funded through large screens on the sides displaying ads.
Other cities have tried to implement similar systems but were ultimately failures because of slow speeds and an overabundance of obtrusive ads. CityBridge will be different as they will offer 1,000 megabits per second which is roughly 100 times faster than what is offered by mobile networks. In addition, you won’t be subjected to watching an ad before getting your internet like some other systems. Once a user signs in they will have access to their internet immediately. NYC hopes that this will shrink data divide. According to The Wall Street Journal, approximately 27% of New Yorkers do not have broadband internet.
In the short run, this is actually good for the mobile companies. It will lessen some strain on overwhelmed data systems. New York City is the most densely populated and therefore data heavy places in America but what makes the data delivery system so strained is the fact that there are so many skyscrapers that tend to block a lot of the signal. Free wifi will help alleviate some of the stress. But in the long run, if this system proves successful it will drastically alter the speed standard, pricing, and data caps for wireless carriers.
In addition, NYC has been struggling to find new uses for the payphones as they are becoming far less useful than previous years. The payphones have become a popular target for vandalism which raises the maintenance cost of an outdated system. Hopefully, this test will be a success and NYC will once again be a pioneer for change, drastically changing the balance of power that wireless carriers have over how people can access the internet.