Whatever your opinion of New York City as a whole, it’s hard to argue that the local government doesn’t occasionally come up with an interesting public-works project. This latest one is a good example of how, with a little forethought, a piece of thoroughly antiquated technology can be transformed into something that helps people in the course of their day: a pilot program that will install free Wi-Fi in payphone kiosks.
According to the New York City government’s Tumblr page—yes, it has one—these Wi-Fi spots (with an advertised range of between 100 and 200 feet) will appear throughout the five boroughs, with 10 initial locations. Additional hotspots, apparently, will appear “in the following months.” The city already offers Wi-Fi in public locations such as libraries.
Those near a payphone hotspot can switch on their mobile device’s Wi-Fi and select “NYC-PUBLIC-WIFI.” One imagines the strain on any particular hotspot when dozens, perhaps hundreds of New Yorkers and tourists attempt to use it at once. A reporter from Mashable tested the connection speeds next to one payphone on Broadway and 49th St., and found speeds of 6.08mbps down and .07mbps up; from the other side of the street, those speeds dropped to 1.02mbps down and .06mbps up.
“As we begin assessing the future of the payphone in New York City, this pilot should help us gauge public interest in the amenities the next generation of devices might offer,” Rahul Merchant, the city’s Chief Information and Innovation Officer, wrote in a statement.
New York City’s last contract for payphones, enacted in 1999, won’t end until 2014. What the city does with the nearly 13,000 units after that point is an open question; but the success (or failure) of the hotspot initiative could perhaps determine how many are switched over to Wi-Fi use in the future.