Technology

Google Startup Aims to Bring Fast, Free Wi-Fi to Cities

It's buying two of the companies that are blanketing New York City with superfast Internet

An attendee at Google's annual developers conference in San Francisco last month.

An attendee at Google's annual developers conference in San Francisco last month.

Photographer: Michael Short/Bloomberg

Sidewalk Labs, the Google-backed urban innovation startup unveiled this month, has picked its first project—bringing free, fast Wi-Fi to cities around the world.

Today it announced it is leading a group of investors acquiring Control Group and Titan, among the companies working on the LinkNYC network to blanket New York City with free, superfast Wi-Fi. The two have merged to form Intersection, which will oversee the rollout of LinkNYC this fall and then seek to install similar technology in other cities.

Come September, tall, thin pillars with digital tablet interfaces and large ads slapped on the sides will begin to replace New York's derelict pay phone booths. In addition to offering free wireless Internet access to anyone in a 150-foot radius, they will include amenities like free phone charging, phone calling, Internet browsing, and access to local services and information. Through Titan's advertising network, Link could bring $500 million in ad revenue to the city over the next 12 years, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio's office. Sidewalk Labs declined to disclose its share of the revenue.

Sidewalk is targeting issues of modern cities such as pollution, energy, traffic, communications, and cost of living. "It was formed to look at the confluence of the physical and digital world to solve urban problems," Chief Executive Officer Dan Doctoroff said. He wouldn't say which cities he has in mind for the Wi-Fi push but predicted the technology will go global. "There are certainly places that it's immediately replicable," he said, adding that the idea is to "use technology not to make cities all the same, but enhance what makes them unique and individual."

Doctoroff was a deputy mayor of New York City under Michael Bloomberg and is the former CEO of Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg Business.  

(An earlier version of this article said Sidewalk alone was acquiring Control Group and Titan.) 

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