Gigabit Cities

Who's Feeding Fiber to LinkNYC Hotspots?

LinkNYC will start testing free WiFi hotspots in New York City this summer, but it's not at all clear who is providing the infrastructure for this "first-of-its-kind communications network." And no one involved in the project is talking… yet.

The ambitious LinkNYC program is turning old payphone sites into new high-speed WiFI hotspots with kiosks that also offer city information services and outdoor advertising space. A consortium of companies collectively known as CityBridge is leading the project, but in a recent twist, two of those organizations -- Control Group and Titan -- have merged and been acquired by a group of investors led by Sidewalk Labs. Sidewalk Labs was launched in early June with funding from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and is being run by former deputy mayor of New York City, Dan Doctoroff.

The LinkNYC model certainly fits in well with a number of Google's businesses, with advertising at the top of that list. Many have speculated too about how Google might combine other recent wireless efforts with projects like LinkNYC, and possibly future similar deployments in additional cities. (See Google's WiFi-First Mobile Service 'Fi' Is Here.)

What's not clear, however, is who is providing the underlying fiber infrastructure for LinkNYC, or whether there's any possibility that Google Fiber Inc. could be involved.

When LinkNYC was announced, the partners listed in the program were Control Group, Titan, Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), Comark (a manufacturing company for outdoor hardware), Antenna Design (the company behind the physical design of the LinkNYC kiosks), and Transit Wireless. Transit Wireless, which provides wireless technology for New York City subway stations, was supposed to be in charge of LinkNYC's network infrastructure. However, the company isn't listed anywhere on the CityBridge website today*, nor does Transit Wireless reference LinkNYC on its site.

At the Global City Teams Challenge Expo hosted by US Ignite and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on June 1, a Qualcomm representative wouldn't reveal the partner providing fiber connectivity for LinkNYC, but she suggested that an announcement would likely be made in the near future. Initial user trials with the LinkNYC kiosks are scheduled to begin this summer, with actual deployments planned for the fall.

Further investigation on connectivity for the project produced a stream of non-answers. Transit Wireless told me "those details have not been finalized yet," and referred me on to a PR contact for CityBridge, who promised to let me know when more information is available.

Asked if Google would provide any of the fiber infrastructure for LinkNYC, a representative of Sidewalk Labs told me, "We don't have anything additional beyond the statement released yesterday which you can find at www.sidewalkinc.com." He was referring to the news release announcing the acquisition of Control Group and Titan, which have now been merged into a company called Intersection, funded by Sidewalk Labs and others.

A request for information from Google went unanswered.

The rollout of gigabit broadband access networks is spreading. Find out what's happening where in our dedicated Gigabit Cities content channel here on Light Reading.

When the LinkNYC project is completed, it will support up to 10,000 WiFi kiosks throughout New York City's five boroughs and offer Internet speeds up to a gigabit. Between 400 and 500 kiosks are supposed to be installed by the end of this year, and WiFi service will be free to residents and visitors alike, thanks to advertising revenue. CityBridge also boasts that LinkNYC "will be one of the first free municipal Wi-Fi services in the country to offer an encrypted network connection," and that the city and CityBridge "have worked together to create the most robust and forward thinking privacy policy that is currently available for any municipal Wi-Fi project."

The LinkNYC program promises to be high-profile and a valuable test case for other cities looking at options for WiFi connectivity. And whoever provides the underlying network will be in an enviable position as the trend toward Gigabit Cities continues to grow. (See 6 Steps Towards a Gigabit City and Smart Cities Need Long-Term Goals to Thrive.)

Someday soon, we should know who that provider is.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

*Editor's note: I believe the CityBridge website used to list Transit Wireless, but I don't have any cached web pages to back that up.

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msilbey 6/30/2015 | 12:16:22 PM
Re: Patience, folks! It's free high speed PUBLIC Wi-Fi...what's the problem???? Yes, yes patience and all that. But the contract is a big one, and whoever provides the underlying network gets a huge presence in NYC. Also - please point me to where you see Transit Wireless on the CityBridge LinkNYC site. I am not finding it. http://www.link.nyc/ 
Cordelia 6/30/2015 | 12:10:51 PM
Patience, folks! It's free high speed PUBLIC Wi-Fi...what's the problem???? Originally, the Citybridge team was made up of Titan, Control Group, Comark, and QUALCOM, with side partners being Transit Wireless and Antenna Design. Since being purchased by Google & Sidewalk Labs, the team behind LinkNYC- specifically managing members Titan and Control Group- has recently merged into one urban design company, Intersection.

However, this doesnt necessarily mean that the additional partners involved in the LinkNYC project are just forgotten about- such as Transit Wireless. Nor does it mean that larger Internet provider/companies will be taking over the Wi-Fi/fiber feed.

You can be sure that other internet providers (specifically Verizon and especially Cablevision) will NOT being taking part in this initiative, though. So get those thoughts out of your heads.

While Transit Wireless may not be mentioned in the initial Google/Sidewalk Labs/Intersection press release, it is indeed still listed on both Citybridge's website as well as LinkNYC's website.

And Qualcom? Well, "As a world leader in 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi and next- generation wireless technologies, Qualcomm will serve as technology advisor, especially as to wireless connectivity technology, to help ensure the LinkNYC network stays abreast with the latest developments in applicable communications technology". While Qualcom is sure to continue their involvement (as mentioned on the linkNYC website), Google will have a lot to do with the implmentation of additonal Wi-Fi features. 

Final thoughts: 

First of all, patience is a virtue, and I can guarentee you will have the answers to these questions (which are somewhat silly, to be honest, because it's FREE, HIGH SPEED Wi-Fi thorughout ALL of NYC...at NO COST to tax payers, residents, visitors, etc.! What is there to complain about or second guess??? Why does it matter SO much that you dont yet know who the EXACT provider is? What would that change? What, are you going to boycott this incredibly impressive, connective, innovative, and city life-changing enterprise? Doubt it....).

Secondly, jumping to conclusions typically incites the wrong assumption, opinion, or judgement. So, waiting until the official website is up and running, waiting for a newly updates press release to come out, OR waiting for the Link structures to begin popping up around the city may just answer those questions...because regardless of whether or not you know this specific info, or whether or not you agree with it, this hugely transformative project is happening. And fast.

But alas, I'm sure that with (a very short amount of) time, you will all be huddled around those remarkable Link structures, charging your cell phones, making free phone/video calls, finding city info (and WAY more), all without complaints or questions.




Kevin Runners 6/30/2015 | 4:26:33 AM
Re: Motive behind the mystery? "It's gotta be Google, right? Has to be. " God damn right.
brooks7 6/29/2015 | 6:04:26 PM
Re: Motive behind the mystery? Nope - dark fiber basically runs in high traffic areas and city to city.  Here you would need it to be broadly deployed.


msilbey 6/29/2015 | 5:04:30 PM
Re: Motive behind the mystery? I'm wondering about Verizon too, although there are other issues with NYC at the moment about whether VZ has met its existing FiOS obligations. 

What about a dark fiber provider with Google or someone else stepping in to operate the network? 
brooks7 6/29/2015 | 4:56:32 PM
Re: Motive behind the mystery? Well, then there are only 2 possible vendors.  First is Cablevision.  Still unlikely but possible.  The only reasonable one is Verizon using FiOS.  There is no way that Google is going to construct fiber in Manhattan to offer free WiFi.  The permitting time alone would be too long.


msilbey 6/29/2015 | 4:45:29 PM
Re: The answer If this were Vegas, I'd say yes.
msilbey 6/29/2015 | 4:45:03 PM
Re: Motive behind the mystery? What about a deal with a traditional carrier? Infrastructure in exchange for a cut of the advertising revenue, some of which is paid up front. 
Mitch Wagner 6/29/2015 | 4:40:05 PM
The answer I say it's Donald Trump. 
danielcawrey 6/29/2015 | 4:16:57 PM
Re: Motive behind the mystery? It's gotta be Google, right? Has to be. 

Who else is gunning to spread the internet in municipalities? It's not Facebook, it's not Apple. It certainly is no Microsoft. 

It's gotta be Google. 
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