The future is on the corner of 15th Street and 3rd Avenue. There looms one of two Link NYC kiosks unveiled Tuesday, which will provide free one-gigabyte WiFi to anyone in roughly a 150 foot radius. The other 9-and-a-half-foot tall slab is two blocks away on 17th Street.
The city plans on blanketing all five boroughs with 4,550 pillars over the next four years, and a total of 7,500 phone-booths-of-the-future by 2024. The kiosks are intended to replace the existing, now-outdated phone booth infrastructure. The project involves lining the the city with hundreds of miles of fiber optic cable. When fully operational, in addition to Internet, the stalls will offer free phone calls, USB charging, and a tablet for web browsing. Those who want to hop on the WiFi from their smartphones have access to an encrypted network, which will keep personal information secure from everyone else accessing the public WiFi.
Right now, however, there are only two kiosks, and they don't do much. CityBridge, the consortium of companies behind the project, plans on opening up the Internet to the public some time in mid-January for beta testing. Tablet functionality is expected to follow by mid-February. After that, CityBridge expects a "pretty aggressive" rollout, said Colin O'Donnell, the chief innovation officer at Intersection, the technology and design company which created the hubs. Intersection's parent company, Sidewalk Labs, has as its chief executive Dan Doctoroff. Doctoroff was a deputy mayor of New York City under Michael Bloomberg and is the former CEO of Bloomberg LP.
O'Donnell estimates that dozens of kiosks will start lining the city's streets over the next month, with 510 to be deployed by mid-summer. The Links will be set up along 3rd Avenue in Manhattan up to the South Bronx, on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, in Jamaica, Queens and St. George, Staten Island. The project has already seen delays. The first kiosks were supposed to go up last fall.
Bright 55-inch digital advertising displays that flank the sides of the kiosks will subsidize ad-free Internet browsing, with the stands promising to bring in $500 million in revenue for the city in the first 12 years of the contract. Pay phones brought in around $17 million in revenue from ads each year, a City spokesperson said. Link kiosks, however, can offer more targeted, data-driven ads, said O'Donnell. "We can use local data, demographic data, [and] real-time information to display the right message to the right audience," he said.
When the Internet works on these structures, O'Donnell promises it will be much faster than anything most New Yorkers have experienced. The gigabit WiFi coming from the kiosks is much faster than what many of our home-router's provide. Hundreds of people streaming Netflix won't overwhelm the services if they all stream from the same Link, claimed O'Donnell. The hardware is also built to withstand heavy usage. It's weather and vandalism resistant, Intersection claims, and there are no flat surfaces on which people can leave garbage.