New York City is reportedly set to begin replacing its aging pay phone booths with a network of kiosks that will provide free high-speed Internet, phone and cell phone charging services to residents in the city’s five boroughs.
The first two of the so-called Link kiosks are expected to go live Jan. 5, and will deliver free gigabit-speed WiFi signals up to 400 feet away, Fortune said in a report this week. Both kiosks are located on New York’s Third Avenue and feature two USB ports for charging mobile devices and an Android-powered touch-screen tablet for browsing the Web, making phone calls and accessing directions, maps and city services.
According to an official description, each Link kiosk will be capable of supporting hundreds of WiFi users simultaneously.
Eventually, as many as 7,500 such kiosks will blanket the city under an ambitious initiative dubbed LinkNYC that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2014. A consortium of companies, including Google-owned Intersection, CIVIQ Smartscapes and Qualcomm, are responsible for maintaining and administering the communications network under a 12-year agreement, dubbed CityBridge.
Vonage will provide free domestic phone calls to all users and each Link kiosk will also let people place 911, 411 and 311 calls.
CityBridge has committed to investing more than $200 million in the next few years to lay the purpose-built fiber-optic cables needed for the 7,500 Link kiosks to deliver gigabit-speed wireless connectivity. CityBridge will also work with the city to bring gigabit service to at least one indoor public facility in each of New York’s five boroughs.
Current plans are for at least 510 Link kiosks to be installed in the city by the end of 2016. Over the next four years, a total of 4,550 gigabit Links will be installed. Plans for when the remaining kiosks will be installed have not yet been announced.
LinkNYC is one of Google’s multiple moonshot projects. Intersection, the company that is leading the effort, is itself a combination of two companies—Control Group and Titan—that Google acquired last year.
Control Group is a part of the CityBridge team that is responsible for what it describes as the software development, public interface design and overall technical strategy for the LinkNYC project. Titan, meanwhile, specializes in what it calls municipality advertising involving the installation and maintenance of display ads for bus, rail, telephone kiosks and street furniture.
LinkNYC will generate revenue for CityBridge and for New York City from ads that will be displayed on digital billboards on the sides of each kiosk as well as from sponsorships and partnerships, according to a FAQ on the project. Titan’s out-of-home advertising expertise is expected to help generate more than $500 million in advertising revenue for New York City over the next several years.
Google’s Intersection is part of the company’s Sidewalk Labs, a venture focused on developing and implementing technologies designed to address urban issues such as mass transportation, energy use and cost of living. The venture, now part of the Alphabet holding company, is headed by Dan Doctoroff, former CEO of Bloomberg LP and deputy mayor of economic development for New York City.