New York City is home to many iconic tech wonders. The subway system is one of the oldest in the world. The Brooklyn Bridge was the first cable/suspension bridge erected. The Commissioners’ Plan grid system used throughout Manhattan celebrated 200 years in 2011.
New York City is also home to more than 11,000 pay phones as of 2013. However, pay phones are a technology of yesteryear and in the age of cell phones and mobile devices, pay phones are standing around collecting dust. In 1925, 25,000 pay phones were located in New York, covering the city in phone coverage, but as of 2013 that number is down more than 50%. Now, the NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, along with Renewable Edge and CityBridge, is attempting to add new life to pay phones, allowing them to once again be an important tech tool in the Big Apple.
In 2013, Renewable Edge LLC set out to rejuvenate the pay phone by adding solar power. Many pay phones have been “out of order” for years and have been cut off from the NYC power grids. Renewable Edge Solar Kit System replaces the utility grid power connection with a solar powered battery system. The solar battery powers the wireless routers that communicate with the existing cell towers. The Solar Kit System goes unnoticed as it is installed into the existing structure of the pay phone; it is only noticeable in pedestal pay phones. The system operates using custom, high efficiency solar panels, deep cycle rechargeable batteries, and MPPT or PWM charge controllers. These charge controllers protect the batteries from over-charging and over-discharging. Due to the shading of the tall buildings in city, the system is designed to compensate for the limited sunlight at street level. Advances in solar-power conversion technology have made solar power systems more cost-effective for smaller applications. As of May 2015, Renewable Edge has installed 1,000 Solar Kit Systems into existing pay phones.
Turning pay phones into coin-operated solar-powered cell phones is updating an outdated technology to modern standards. The next step is turning them into wireless hotspots. LinkNYC is a plan developed by NYC and the CityBridge team to convert the old pay phones into Links. Links are connection points that will provide free 24/7 Wi-Fi, free phone calls within the U.S., a touchscreen interface to city services and directions, easy access to 911 and 311, free charging for personal mobile devices, and serve as digital displays for advertising and public service announcements. CityBridge is comprised of the technology and advertising companies Titan, Control Group, Qualcomm, and Comark. LinkNYC will utilize gigabit Wi-Fi. Gigabit Wi-Fi is more than a 100 times faster than the average public Wi-Fi and more than 20 times faster than the average home Internet service in NYC. By the end of 2015, the very first Links will be up and running. The goal is to install 10,000 Links across the five boroughs of NYC.
Almost all of our current technology depends on the Internet or machine-to-machine connectivity in one way or another. As personal device usage grows, we will depend more and more on Wi-Fi. Wearable technology, for example, in its current state, especially needs Wi-Fi to function independent of connectivity to other devices. Self-driving cars already have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability. Accessing public Wi-Fi will allow them to have up-to-date information on construction, traffic, and emergencies occurring around the city. The FCC ruling this past year has established that the internet is a utility that should be available to everyone. Free Wi-Fi provided by the city people live in is the next logical step. This will benefit many small businesses and families by being able to rely on internet access. It will not be perfect. Security and a reliable connection will most likely be a problem as it is with our current internet standards. However, public Wi-Fi will become a necessity and as a result New York City's pay phones are getting a second chance.