Very few New Yorkers (other than the occasional superhero) use pay phone booths anymore due to the ubiquity of the personal cellphone. As a result, the city of New York has been left with many thousands of largely obsolete phones and phone booths along its streets. In an effort to find a use for this aging infrastructure, the city has re-imagined them as a new type of asset that will provide free 24-hour a day gigabit Wi-Fi, free phone calls to anywhere in the United States, touch-screen monitors that access city services and maps, along with a handy charging port for your cellphone.
Dubbed the LinkNYC network, and aimed to cover all five boroughs of the city, the project is a collaboration between the New York City Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and CityBridge. The project also includes a consortium of private companies including Qualcomm, Comark, Control Group and Titan.
In addition to the Wi-Fi access that is – according to the LinkNYC blurb – fast enough to download a HD movie in less than 30 seconds, the units will also provide free country-wide phone calls, access to 911 and other emergency numbers, as well as a city-wide warning system using the unit's inbuilt digital displays and broadcasting capabilities during emergencies like Hurricane Sandy, for example.
In preparation for this major change to the public telecommunications network of New York, the city has run a number of programs in 2014, including a design contest and a pilot scheme of free Wi-Fi hotspots to help shift public thinking and produce ideas for the formal proposal request, the results of which will form the basis for this latest announcement. Interestingly, as a result of this feedback, the touchscreen, directional speaker, and microphone to be used is actually all part of an Android tablet wired directly into the units.
To fund all of this, a large revenue stream is predicted from the built-in digital advertising displayed on the units that will be tailored (and constantly fine-tuned) to suit its location and the residents of the area. This revenue is expected to be somewhere in the vicinity of US$500 million over 12 years.
Construction of the network has been slated to start as early as 2015 where, eventually, some 10,000 of the devices are planned to be installed across New York, almost double the number of the 6,500 pay phones that they are to replace. As part of the refit, the city also intends to auction off many of the redundant telephones to New Yorkers – and others – who may have some sense of sentimental attachment to the old blowers.
The original three "Superman-style" phone booths on the Upper West Side, however, will be retained and preserved for the continued use of the public and for posterity as part of New York City's history.
Manufacturing and production of the units is intended to be fully local in New York City, according to LinkNYC, and the program is projected to create somewhere around 100 to 150 new full-time jobs in manufacturing, technology, and advertising, along with an additional 650 estimated support roles.
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