New York City is to replace pay phones with ultra-high speed Wi-Fi hotspots. The booths will still allow people without a cellphone to make voice calls, now without charge.
The replacement program is set to cover 500 booths by this July with an eventual target of 7,500. That’s the vast majority of the 8,178 pay phones that were in the city as of last March.
Each booth will provide a 1Gbps connection, though of course that may be shared between multiple users. The plan is that a one-time login will allow automatic connection in the future. Unlike previous test programs, there won’t be any obligation to watch an ad before using the connection.
The booth will also house an Android tablet that’s configured to offer web browsing and free VOIP calls, along with a one-tap button to call the emergency services. It also appears there’ll be charging points for devices.
The funding for the booths will come from electronic screens displaying advertising. CityBridge, the company running the program, has agreed to pay at least $500 million to the city over 12 years for the rights to sell the ad space. The terms of the deal mean it will instead hand over 50 percent of the ad revenue if that works out as more than the $500 million. The Wall Street Journal notes that at just over $41 million a year, that’s far in excess of the $17.5 million the city currently gets from selling poster space on pay phone booths.
Analysts seem uncertain about the effect the move will have on cellphone carriers operating in the city. On the one hand it could reduce strain on cellular data networks. On the other, if the service lives up to expectations, New Yorkers might cut down to cheaper data plans with lower monthly caps.