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You've Never Seen a Hotspot Like This—Citywide Wi-Fi Hits the Streets of NYC

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You know how frustrating it can be looking for wireless networks when you're on the go. If you're trying to get online using a laptop, you can't get anything done until you're connected. And if you're using a smartphone or tablet, you'll be burning up your data plan until you can connect to a free wireless network.

And many times, even when you do get connected, the service can be slow.

That's not going to be the case anymore in parts of New York City. Soon, residents of and visitors to Manhattan will be able to get super-fast and totally free wireless coverage, even as they're roaming around the city streets.

Out with the old...

Now that just about all of us use cell phones, pay phones on city corners and streets are a thing of the past. But those abandoned pay phone sites are coming in handy. Through a joint venture, the city of New York is replacing thousands of useless phone booths with high-tech wireless hotspot towers. Here are some of the details:

  • This super-ambitious public Wi-Fi project is called LinkNYC.
  • By July 2016, about 500 of these highest-tech hotspots will be in place around the city.
  • The plan is to install about 7,500 total citywide.
  • The free Wi-Fi will deliver broadband speeds about 100 times faster than what most wireless carriers provide.
  • Once you've signed on to the network, your laptop or device will automatically connect and stay connected as you move around town.

It's a phone. It's a tower. It's a billboard.

The new hotspot towers sprouting up in the Big Apple look something like a 10-foot-tall smartphone, with viewing screens on both sides.

The two screens will continuously display ads, and the advertising revenue they generate will help pay for the project.

Just imagine how many visitors, businesspeople and residents will see the ads in the heart of Manhattan—you can bet that advertisers will want to take advantage of those eye-catching, street-level billboards.

Each hotspot tower will also have a tablet built in to allow passersby to make a free phone call or surf the Internet.

This exciting project is a glimpse of the future of public Wi-Fi. New York City is joining a few other cities worldwide, including Taipei and Helsinki, to deliver a citywide Wi-Fi system.

The LinkNYC project is being run by a trio of high-tech companies: Qualcomm Inc., a smartphone microchip maker; a networking company called CIVIQ Smartscapes; and a Google-affiliated company called Intersection. The group calls themselves CityBridge, and they are investing more than $200 million in the LinkNYC project.

Need for speed.

Here's the good news about the LinkNYC project for those of you who might be able to visit the city and take advantage of the new technology: According to a test and report in The Wall Street Journal, the free LinkNYC Wi-Fi is fast and efficient.

How fast is that? It took only 45 seconds for someone who was sitting just 10 feet from a LinkNYC booth to download a two-hour, 1GB video file. Then they downloaded the same file from other networks for comparison:

  • It took six minutes for the same file to download using a standard home Internet Service Provider connection.
  • It took 15 minutes to download the file using an airport's free Wi-Fi.

The LinkNYC download speed is 32 times faster than Hilton Hotel's free wireless network, 15 times faster than a Starbuck's hotspot, and eight times faster than an apartment in New York connected to the Time Warner Cable Internet network. It's true that as more people start using the LinkNYC free hotspot, the speeds might slow down a bit, but it will still be blazing fast.

And here's even better news: It's a more secure network than any typical free wireless hotspot. By the way, initially LinkNYC will work only for iPhone users, who will need to download a file called Passpoint on their phone, tablet or laptop. Access for other devices will certainly happen as the public demands a bite of the Big Apple's free, fast Wi-Fi network.

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