New York's futuristic, high-tech pay phones -- which are embedded with touchscreen tablets -- are finally going live on Thursday.
The name "pay phone" doesn't quite do it justice, of course. Yes, the city's LinkNYC terminals will allow you to make domestic phone calls. But they'll also let you surf the Web, pull up online maps and connect to city services like 311 and 911. And all of it will be free, thanks to built-in advertising.
Powering these features is a series of Android tablets that are built into each of the LinkNYC terminals that are now in use. More terminals will be switched on this summer across the city, making a total of 510 LinkNYC spots. Over the next eight years, as many as 7,500 stations will be built to replace New York's pay phone network.
One of the LinkNYC system's most attractive features is an ultrafast, gigabit WiFi hotspot. Currently in beta testing, the WiFi feature has shown download speeds of more than 250 Mbps — way faster than what you probably get at home.
Public WiFi projects have had a mixed record, which makes them politically controversial. Philadelphia is often held up as a key example of failure. What happened there? Well, making sure every patch of the city was covered turned out to be tremendously expensive, because it called for building more WiFi hotspots than expected. And to get onto the network, Philadelphia residents had to pay a fee.
The secret to LinkNYC is a confluence of several factors, but it's the ad-driven business model that really sets it apart. New York is so dense, with so many residents, that the opportunity to gather detailed data for advertising on these millions of potential users is practically irresistible. Instead of paying a fee to get online, users will be asked to provide an email address.
How well do the LinkNYC kiosks work? Let us know.