Free Wi-Fi anywhere in urban New York? That’s the promise of LinkNYC – but wait, it gets better. That free Wi-Fi, which is now entering its beta phase, wants to do away entirely with pay phones and replace them with Wi-Fi that can reach hundreds of MBps for both uploads and downloads, faster than any network service can imitate outside of fiber optics. And best of all, it could replace your favorite wireless router at home.
Does the news sound too good to be true? You can head over to NYC right now – be care of blizzards – and try it out. LinkNYC has set up its first wave of little, sign-like kiosks that serve as Wi-Fi hubs along the streets. They include a host of handy features, including the ability to instantly call 911 with a kiosk button, free phones throughout the U.S. via Vonage and microphones, and charging ports for anything with a USB connection. The kiosk also includes a tablet you can use to browse city maps, local services, and other info for tourists. Two large 55-inch HD screens will broadcast public service announcements and advertisements.
But the main attraction is certainly the ability to connect a personal device to LinkNYC Wi-Fi and browse free of charge. If you are worried about hacking you can choose an encryption key option when you log on via Hotspot 2.0. Setup takes minutes at the most, and the range of the kiosks appears to extend for well over 100 feet, especially if no buildings are in the way. With this kind of deal, there’s probably a lot of apartment dwellers that will be glad to ditch their Wi-Fi plans and tap into the free network. Tech news reports that 500 kiosks are planned by July, so that’s a lot of wireless clients about ready to happily disappoint their providers.
However, there are a few caveats to consider before adopting this plan everywhere there is civilization. First, the service is free but LinkNYC depends on kiosk advertisements to make a profit. Certainly there are plenty of advertisers who could choose this option, but it’s not apparent how many will, or what they are willing to pay. In other words, the long-term viability of this project is unknown. Second, one purpose of the beta wave is to test real street conditions – how long before graffiti appears? Before USB ports get clogged with gum? Before people try to short out the kiosks or hack them as a prank? A final concern is service: If a kiosk breaks, how easy will it be to repair, and how long will it take?
This year and the following few years will be a key testing ground for this type of public service. If it all goes well, Link(YourTown) could be the next big thing.