Wireless Providers to Light Up New York

The city plans to allow wireless companies to place cellular antennas and other networking gear atop street lamps, traffic lights and other prime real estate.

Six wireless providers are set to begin installing equipment for cellar networks, Wi-Fi and Internet telephony in New York City street lamps, traffic lights and other prime real estate this summer under a plan expected to net the city more than $20 million a year, city officials said last week.

T-Mobile USA Inc. and Nextel Communications Inc. are the largest companies taking part in the scheme, originally discussed in February, with Nextel planning to install repeaters capable of carrying any type of wireless service. IDT Business Services LLC is to provide low-income homes with Internet telephony services and equipment, while ClearLinx Network Corp., Crown Castle Solutions Inc. and Dianet Communications LLC will offer the light pole real estate to other carriers.

The use of street lights, street signs and traffic lights could change the way users access wireless services. Currently cellular service providers and wireless ISPs must build powerful base stations on private property, leaving gaps in service, while wireless LAN hot spots are limited to specific locations such as airport lounges and coffee shops. Under the citys plan, access points would be more numerous and would therefore need less power.

In addition, because each pole can only accommodate a single base station, providers such as Nextel are installing equipment designed to support multiple cellular services as well as emerging technologies such as WiMax. This, the city hopes, will mean an end to the use of larger, competing base stations.

Despite such assurances, however, the plan has already riled some public figures, who fear that the unchecked proliferation of wireless base stations will lead to unforeseen health side effects. "They keep saying that these things are less dangerous than microwave ovens, but no one has a microwave running 24/7, right next to their bedroom window," Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr. of Queens told the New York Times on Friday.

The poles are divided into three categories: Zone A includes Manhattan south of 96th Street; Zone B is citywide, excluding the areas covered by Zones A and C; and Zone C includes districts in which at least 5 percent of housing units do not have telephone service. Franchisees operating only in Zone C will pay $10,000 a year, rising to $50,000 for Zone C and Zone B, or $100,000 a year in all zones.

Each franchisee can rent up to 3,000 poles for as long as 15 years, and the city is making 18,000 locations available for rent. Rentals of 14,000 locations would bring in $21,219,720 annually, the city estimates.

Antennas and repeaters are designed to be as unnoticeable from the ground as possible, with a ban on logos and signage visible from the street. The devices will link up to power and fiber-optic cabling under the street.

Metricom Inc. provided wireless data service via New York Citys light poles from the late 1990s until 2001, when it filed for bankruptcy. Metricom was the initial owner of struggling wireless data pioneer Ricochet Networks Inc., recently acquired by YDI Wireless Inc. The plan is also similar to a U.K. scheme to blanket the country with broadband wireless access via upgrades to the countrys roadside telematics equipment.


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