New York is Finally Installing its Promised Public Gigabit Wi-Fi

Yesterday, workers began installing the first LinkNYC access points in New York. First announced in November 2014, the hubs are designed as an update to the standard phone booth, using upgraded infrastructure to provide gigabit Wi-Fi access points. This particular installation was spotted outside a small Starbucks at 15th St and 3rd Avenue, near Manhattan’s Union Square. 500 other hubs are set to be installed throughout the city by mid-July. LinkNYC anticipates one or two weeks of testing before New Yorkers will be able to use the hubs to get online.

The full network will install more than 7,500 public hubs throughout the city, each replacing a pre-existing phone booth. Once completed, the hubs will also include USB device charging ports, touchscreen web browsing, and two 55-inch advertising displays. The city estimates that ads served by the new hubs will generate more than $500 million in revenue over the next 12 years.
Emerging from the Reinvent Payphones design challenge under Mayor Bloomberg, the LinkNYC project has been the subject of significant controversy in recent months. Shortly after the initial buildout was announced, the Daily News reported that outer-borough hubs in Brooklyn and the Bronx were exhibiting speeds as much as ten times slower than equivalent hubs in Manhattan. One of the companies involved in the hubs, Titan, also drew controversy for implanting Bluetooth beacons in the test hubs, which could potentially have been used to track pedestrians and serve ads. The beacons were removed shortly after their existence was made public. This summer, Titan merged with Control Group to form a new company called Intersection, and Google's Sidewalk Labs purchased a non-controlling portion of the subsequent company.
When the project was announced in 2014, LinkNYC said it would begin construction "next year." This week's construction push allowed them make good on that promise just a few days before 2016. Other functionality may take longer to come online, particularly the built-in touchscreen-enabled tablet, designed for web browsing, maps, and free phone calls. On an accompanying pamphlet, those features are listed as "coming soon".

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