New York City still has thousands of pay phones on its sidewalks, but many have been gathering dust in the cellphone era. This month, the city will start replacing them with free WiFi hot spots, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ultimately, more than 7,500 phone booths will be turned into hot spots, with 500 expected to be up by July, as part of the LinkNYC project. The 9.5-foot-tall WiFi hubs, called "Links," will have Android tablets that can be used to browse the Web and make free phone calls, or users can access the free WiFi using their own devices. They can also charge those devices via USB port, and there will be a dedicated red 911 button at each Link. Of course, there will also be two 55" HD displays on each one featuring sidewalk advertising (and public service announcements). The free WiFi at each Link will cover about a 150-foot radius and be able to service hundreds of users simultaneously, per LinkNYC.
As the Journal notes, other cities have experimented with free public WiFi, but typically speeds are so slow (or users are required to watch ads before connecting) that not many people use it. CityBridge, the joint venture running LinkNYC, says its broadband will be up to 100 times faster than typical free public WiFi and about 20 times faster than average home Internet service, and users won't have to watch ads. The city says data will be encrypted and any information collected for advertising purposes will be anonymized, the AP reports. CityBridge, which is putting more than $200 million into the project, expects to make $1 billion over 12 years from advertising and will pay the city $500 million or a 50% revenue share, whichever is more. The first two Links are being unveiled in Manhattan Tuesday and will be available for use within a week or two, Gizmodo reports. (Read more New York City stories.)