The devices that sprang up to replace payphones point the way to the future of city-wide connectivity and offer lessons on what doesn't work in a sprawling metropolis like New York City.

July 13, 2023

NEW YORK – Some people miss coin-operated public telephones when walking around New York City.

Even with the latest iPhone in hand, cell and Wi-Fi signals may be everywhere, but getting walking directions from the Internet is still not as easy as asking a street vendor.

This video report recalls what happened when New York's payphones were replaced and what the city thought it could do with hundreds of modern kiosks taking up sidewalk space to provide large, bright screens with advertisements. The kiosks promised citywide connectivity, but the public didn't seem to need or want the tacky structures housing the Wi-Fi hotspots.

New York's evolution from a city with payphones on every corner to a city with a few hundred imposing neutral host towers is a kind of cautionary tale for many smart cities' efforts. Such projects start with the best intentions but frequently fall short of providing the connectivity or utility promised to citizens.

Will the current iteration of LinkNYC finally reverse that trend? Will 5G small cells finally blanket the Big Apple with publicly available high-speed connectivity, even in crowded parks and busy streets? Can the telecom industry and city governments ever combine efforts to make us stop pining for payphones?

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– Diana Blass, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

Light Reading's Mike Dano contributed to this report. Light Reading's Phil Harvey, his pockets stuffed with quarters, went outside and yelled at some clouds.

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