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LinkNYC to bring free, public Wi-Fi to New York (pictures)

For Road Trip 2015, CNET checks out a project in New York that will replace old payphones with Wi-Fi hotspots.

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Paula Vasan

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CityBridge's Dave Etherington
1 of 15 Paula Vasan/CNET

CityBridge's Dave Etherington

Up to 10,000 Wi-Fi structures, known as Links, will replace old, dilapidated phone booths across New York as part of a project called LinkNYC. The Links will supply free, high-speed Wi-Fi Internet to anyone within about 150 feet.

Dave Etherington, chief strategy officer of Titan, part of the CityBridge consortium in charge of the project, shows a map of current payphone locations and where Links will be placed throughout the city.

Make free calls
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Make free calls

Beyond free Internet access with up to gigabit speeds -- roughly 100 times faster than average public Wi-Fi -- Links will provide free calls to anywhere in the US and rapid USB charging. They can also be used to call 911 for emergency services and 311 for non-emergency services.

Part of the team behind LinkNYC
3 of 15 Paula Vasan/CNET

Part of the team behind LinkNYC

CityBridge, the consortium of companies that is creating and managing LinkNYC, includes Titan, Control Group, Qualcomm and Comark. Hundreds of people across these companies are working on the creation and deployment of LinkNYC.

What a Link will look like
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What a Link will look like

LinkNYC will require more than 500 miles of fiber optic cable to provide high-speed broadband throughout the five boroughs. That is enough cable to go from New York to Boston and back. People will be able to access the Wi-Fi within 150 feet of a Link and connect between Links after joining the network once.

Testing Link's tablet interface
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Testing Link's tablet interface

This structure is a "brassboard" that stages and tests different hardware options. Dave Etherington demonstrates a version of Link's tablet interface, which will provide free calls, access to Internet and city services.

Access 911 and 311 services
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Access 911 and 311 services

Providing access to 911 and 311, LinkNYC will let people in New York communicate in real-time with city services.

Link structures are ADA compliant
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Link structures are ADA compliant

Links are designed to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities recently awarded LinkNYC and CityBridge the Title IV Telecommunications Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to increasing accessibility for people with disabilities.

The CityBridge team
8 of 15 Paula Vasan/CNET

The CityBridge team

The CityBridge team is comprised of experts in technology, advertising, connectivity and user experience.

Etherington says LinkNYC is setting an example for other cities around the world
9 of 15 Paula Vasan/CNET

Etherington says LinkNYC is setting an example for other cities around the world

CityBridge team member Dave Etherington has received inquiries from around the world -- spanning all of the way to Australia -- about how to implement something like LinkNYC in their cities.

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Say 'goodbye' to payphones

Links will be significantly slimmer than current payphones at only 11 inches wide.

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Thousands of payphones occupy the city

Today, there are more nearly 9,000 payphones throughout New York. Links will replace all of them...and number up to 10,000.

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Links to reuse existing infrastructure

Links will initially be placed in the locations of existing payphones, enabling the city to reuse existing infrastructure.

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Payphones aren't vanishing completely

Don’t worry, the payphones aren’t vanishing all at once. The entire LinkNYC rollout will take four years, and payphones will remain in New York until it is complete. Also, three payphones will remain on the Upper West Side to pay homage to Superman!

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Focus groups in action

To understand how New Yorkers in all five boroughs will eventually experience Link, the LinkNYC team held focus groups throughout the city to determine people’s behaviors and motivations for using Link and to gauge their reactions with different kinds of early prototypes. For example, how do people think about making a phone call? How do you communicate through video chat?

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Where are all the city's payphones?

This map shows the current locations of all payphones throughout New York.

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