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New York City is building 10,000 internet pylons for free public Wi-Fi

New York City is building 10,000 internet pylons for free public Wi-Fi


"LinkNYC will be the fastest and largest free municipal Wi-Fi deployment in the world."

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Say goodbye to New York's public pay phones and hello to one of the largest public Wi-Fi experiments ever. A new city plan dubbed LinkNYC will replace public pay telephones with a console that provides free public Wi-Fi ("up to gigabit speeds") 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The physical pillar will also provide free domestic phone calls (including 911 and 311), a charging station for your phones, and a "touchscreen tablet interface to access City services, directions, and more."

LinkNYC will reportedly be funded entirely through advertising revenues — if you noticed, there's a large screen on the sides for bright promotions — and "will be built at no cost to taxpayers." The project is estimated to generate more than $500 million in revenue for NYC over the first 12 years.

LinkNYC two models

Commercial (left) and Residential (right) versions

LinkNYC's claims of gigabit speeds from a Wi-Fi network do raise a few questions, mainly because commonly used Wi-Fi networks today don't yet support sustained gigabit connections from individual devices. The fact sheet for the company's plan doesn't detail what Wi-Fi standard will be used in the stations, or if Link plans to use a new technology that hasn't yet been deployed. The company only notes that "gigabit Wi-Fi is more than a 100 times faster than the average public Wi-Fi and more than 20 times faster than the average home Internet service in NYC. Downloading a two-hour HD movie can take as little as 30 seconds."

There are a lot of unanswered questions about LinkNYC's plans

If a new standard is being used, it will take a long time for consumer devices to support it — after all, many smartphones still don't support the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard that has already been around for a couple of years. Perhaps more important is if the network's capacity or speeds will be easily upgradeable via firmware updates or minimal hardware upgrades, as gigabit speeds may be very fast now, but will surely be considered slow in just a few short years.

There are a lot of unanswered questions here, but the initiative at first blush is one of the largest and most expansive of any municipality — and it won't be launching quickly. The first LinkNYC structures will be operational by the second half of next year, with the ultimate goal of up to 10,000 links installed across all five boroughs.