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Wi-Fi in NYC Pay Phones: Second Time's a Charm?

5:00 PM -- New York City's plan to house hot spots in pay phones to provide free Wi-Fi service in the Big Apple illustrates just how much wireless LAN has become part of everyday life even as the public telephone system has become a thing of the past

The city is working with pay-phone companies Titan and Van Wagner to install the hot spots, according to NY1 TV.

The first hot spot was opened up in a kiosk near Columbus Circle in Manhattan Wednesday, and the city has installed 10 hot spots in total around the boroughs. The pilot scheme will be extended if it's a success.

What a lot of New Yorkers may have forgotten is a similar plan was tried in the city nearly a decade ago by Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). The operator started offering free Wi-Fi access to its DSL users in certain parts of town. (See Verizon: WLAN, Phone Home.)

Verizon killed the project in 2005 as it never really took off. It's been one of several efforts to use New York's broken down pay-phone infrastructure.

I think this latest venture, however, is much more likely to succeed. For one, it's free and open to all and -- unlike 2003 -- people actually have Wi-Fi in their phones and tablets, not just restricted to bulky laptop computers. Cap this off with a desire not to bust through operator-imposed data caps, and you can see why more available Wi-Fi is welcome to many users.

Free Wi-Fi in the city is booming, in fact. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) said in June that people had made 2.7 million connections to the Wi-Fi in the parks project it launched with the government last year. (See Report: AT&T to Put Wi-Fi in 20 NYC Parks.)

Meanwhile, it is a good way to reuse the 13,000 pay phones dotted around the city: After all, when was the last time you made a call on one?

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:28:08 PM
re: Wi-Fi in NYC Pay Phones: Second Time's a Charm?

Yep, I couldn't write this now, the ad I was lambasting is almost a reality in some places. It only took a decade to come true!

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:28:08 PM
re: Wi-Fi in NYC Pay Phones: Second Time's a Charm?

Dan -- you're right, a big factor this time, in addition to more people being connected, is the fact that you don't need a laptop.

I remember AT&T Park having wi-fi in the early 2000s.  I was already using wi-fi a lot back then, but: Did I really want to bring a laptop into an environment full of spilled beer, people stepping on things, etc? Not to mention the added bulk (remember, this is San Francisco -- I was already carrying a parka and sweater into each ballgame). (That's not meant to be a joke.)

Obviously, it's different now. It only takes 5 seconds inside AT&T Park to see that.

JohnMike 12/5/2012 | 5:28:02 PM
re: Wi-Fi in NYC Pay Phones: Second Time's a Charm?

Hmm, somebody is laying out a lot of dough to build this WiFi network (est $2,000 per site X 13,000 sites = real money!) Where's the payback? Maybe Verizon knows something about outfitting payphone sites with WiFi.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:27:57 PM
re: Wi-Fi in NYC Pay Phones: Second Time's a Charm?

Well yeah, that's assuming they get beyond the 10 hotspot pilot phase.

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