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New York Experiments With Wi-Fi From Payphones 56

Posted by timothy
from the network-effects-in-full-effect dept.
Payphones have been famously disappearing from public life; cell phones and other means of communication have made them ever less important in many contexts (and for most people). Some places, it's hard to find not only payphones, but usable wireless signal as well. Still, there are a lot of payphones left in the wild (though the enclosed kind seem to be disappearing faster than on-premises ones), and now there's a plan in New York City to extend payphones' useful life by outfitting them as public Wi-Fi hotspots, beginning with a 10-phone trial already underway. It's not the first such project; we mentioned a similar multi-city wi-phone deployment in Canada 10 years ago. And in Austin, I've spotted at least one payphone fitted out as a solar-powered charging station for cellphones; probably not enough to get much charge, but at least it lets users place an emergency call with a flagging or dead battery. Covering Manhattan and the other boroughs with overlapping free Wi-Fi nodes, though, is a different beast entirely.
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New York Experiments With Wi-Fi From Payphones

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  • Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tastecicles (1153671) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @01:46PM (#40630011)

    The Cloud wifi network has been operating from UK payphones for several years.

    • by Canazza (1428553)

      I was about to say the same thing.
      BT Openzone's been running for yonks, and now Sky are getting in on the act (although I don't believe they're using phoneboxes, I think they're just using base stations in the cabinets)

      And it's not like it's just in London. It's all over. We have them in Glasgow, and I've seen them as far north as Inverness.
      While it's not *completely* city wide, there are gaps in the net, even in the center (the wifi can only broadcast so far, and it's not like they're cell masts or anythin

      • pisses me off that The Cloud costs £6/hour to use, and BT OpenZone requires that you have a BT home account (unless you use the public terminal in such equipped booths). Nottingham is practically unbroken in coverage for both of them from Netherfield across to Wollaton, Arnold down to Silverdale. We do have a classic red box (or two or ten) as well, at least one of these has been retrofitted with a wifi module.

    • by richlv (778496)

      Latvian operator Lattelecom has been doing this for years as well (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lattelecom#Lattelecom_Internet [wikipedia.org])

      it's not free, so i've never tried it ;>

    • by jrumney (197329)

      The Cloud wifi network has been operating from UK payphones for several years.

      PHS [wikipedia.org] networks in Japan used payphones as cell locations from around the mid 1990's. They also used lampposts, as does my local municipal Free WiFi network.

    • by reason (39714)

      On a recent visit to China, I noticed payphones there also operated as wifi hotspots for customers of the phone company.

  • If you already have armored (payphones didn't mess around when it came to protecting their quarters or their wiring) hardpoints with access to the telco infrastructure and possibly power, what better place?
    • by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @01:53PM (#40630093) Homepage Journal

      On top of streetlights perhaps? Hard to get up there without getting caught and will increase range being higher off the ground..

      Lights already have power, and many have some sort of network connection for monitoring...

      • Wouldn't it be hard to balance yourself on top of the streetlight while making a phone call? Unless you're Chuck Norris...

      • Vancouver actually had a proposal to do exactly this, as well as to include cell tower coverage and potentially a few other types of data.
        http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/22/douglas-coupland-created-v-pole-may-take-high-tech-to-the-streets-in-vancouver/

        "The device, no larger than a telephone pole, would manage cell signals for multiple carriers, as well as wireless Internet for the surrounding neighbourhood. In-ground pads plugged into the pole would provide inductive charging for parked electric cars.

      • by Lev13than (581686)

        Toronto Hydro already does this in the downtown core - 6 km2 of coverage using utility poles:
        http://www.onezone.ca/ [onezone.ca]

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        On top of streetlights perhaps? Hard to get up there without getting caught and will increase range being higher off the ground..

        Lights already have power, and many have some sort of network connection for monitoring...

        Except most lampposts don't have any form of network connectivity already there (payphones have a line to the telco who can easily provision DSL to it). And people have been known to open the cover at the bottom to steal the wire for the copper, disabling the streetlight.

  • I hear in London, they are planning to do the same thing with Blue Police Boxes

  • First, payphones would not accept incoming calls because then drug dealers could deal drugs more efficiently. Then it didn't matter because everyone had a telephone in their pocket. Now the payphones are to become open access points? Won't that make it easier for drug dealers to deal drugs?
    • by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @02:06PM (#40630243)

      This is the part I am having a hard time grasping. We are replacing "Pay Phones" with "Free Wi-Fi"

      Now back in the days Pay Phones were popular as you put a quarter in and you can talk, people didn't have Cell Phones, however they had Home Phones which were cheaper then using Pay Phones... Pay Phones were good money, and people used them not to save money, but because they were convenient. Cell Phones are more convenient so they replaced Pay Phones. Now we are getting Free Wi-Fi? What is going to stop people and business from using the public Wi-Fi vs getting their own? Do you really want everyone in 100 meters to be using the same Wi-Fi? Where nearby homes and offices will be using it all the time too.

      • by KhabaLox (1906148) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @02:11PM (#40630301)

        I was thinking something similar. Why not have it coin activated. Put in a quarter (or several), pick up the receiver, and listen for the x-digit key to access the point. Have it reset every 5 or 15 minutes or something.

      • And how do they make money off of the free wifi offered at the payphones?

        Simple! You drop in a quarter, and it displays an access password that is good for one hour. This will allow it to possibly make some money, and keep dozens of freeloaders from using the access point.

        Oh, yeah: Step 4: Profit!

        • by SomePgmr (2021234)
          I imagine it'd work more like airport Wi-Fi, where anyone can connect, but to get through the walled garden you have to pay for an hour, day or sub-up for a month.
      • by gorzek (647352)

        The phones aren't being replaced, wi-fi is just an added feature. They'll still work as payphones.

      • What is going to stop people and business from using the public Wi-Fi vs getting their own? Do you really want everyone in 100 meters to be using the same Wi-Fi?

        Ah, I love it when people answer their own questions!

      • by danhaas (891773)

        What's the problem with that? Put a speed cap on each user, limit the number of users, drop the connection and rename the wifi every 30 minutes... there's a number of tricks that can be used so that people would be able to check their e-mails or check a map but not torrent 24/7.

        And this stuff isn't free, you would be paying it with your taxes. Remember, taxes buy civilization.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        What is going to stop people and business from using the public Wi-Fi vs getting their own?

        There's a pretty easy fix for this, actually... Rate-limit each user to, say, 400k. You'll still have an immensely snappy web browsing experience, and can do VoIP, and stream audio, as well as have plenty of bandwidth for fast downloads.... but...

        But the important part is that you'll still need to buy a connection to stream video. 500k is hulu's minimum speed, and Netflix is far higher. Streaming video is a huge

    • think of the children.

    • by alen (225700)

      dude, this is 2012

      the drugs of choice are prescribed by a doctor and paid for by insurance. oxycotin, vicodin and others are just cleaned up heroin.

      • dude, this is 2012

        the drugs of choice are prescribed by a doctor and paid for by insurance. oxycotin, vicodin and others are just cleaned up heroin.

        ... and when you get hooked and subsequently busted for abusing them, you can say, "it's not a drug addiction, it's a medical condition!"

        Thanks, Rush!

  • They're not just public out houses anymore!
  • by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @02:07PM (#40630259) Homepage Journal
    Verizon tried this already in 2003 [wired.com]. It was a pretty cool idea, because they already had the phone booth real estate, and the presence of telephones at each one meant that they could use their existing DSL infrastructure for backhaul.

    Fast forward to 2012. Wifi is in far greater demand now than it was nine years ago, now that everyone's got tablets and other devices. Perhaps it is an idea whose time has come. However there will be stiff competition, particularly from cable companies in suburban areas where the wires are overhead. Many cable companies are now deploying thousands of devices that look like this [ruckuswireless.com] on the wires. They're Wi-Fi hot spots with built in cable modems. Once the density gets high enough, subscribers are likely to find one in nearly every public place they find themselves in.
  • since this is Slashdot... and I'm not about to start doing it now... but the juxtaposition of "pay phone" and "wi-fi hotspot" made me think they were going to do a wi-fi hotspot with an out-dialing POTS modem spliced into the pay phone... you get internet at 33.6 kbps just like we did 15 years ago, and you drop quarters into the phone to keep your connection...

    Yeah, I'm sure that's not what they're going to do. Even by the standards of NYC, what I imagined is pretty ghetto.

  • by PaddyM (45763)

    Who knows where Superman would have had to change otherwise.

    • They did poke fun at this in the first Superman movie (with Christopher Reeve). By the time that movie came out, phone booths were already being replaced by the weather-shielded phones on a post.
  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @05:53PM (#40632677) Journal

    On a related note, have you ever wondered what that Police Public Call Box thing is that The Doctor uses to travel through space and time? I used to wonder too. It wasn't until I went to Edinburgh that I saw them and other objects that looked like them. I remember jumping out of my seat and saying "There's a Tardis!"

    Well apparently they had a phone accessible from the outside that the public could use to call the cops in an emergency. Cops would have access to the inside where they could go in and hang their hat, hold a prisoner while help came, and effectively use it as a mini police station. Some of them remain and have been re-purposed for other uses like coffee shops or news stands. There were a lot of designs and didn't seem to standardize like the classic red phone box did.

    Cities like Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool have updated the concept with "help points", little computerized kiosks that are under CCTV surveillance and have a direct line to the police. It'd be cool if they could introduce the modern functionality but contain it in the form of the old 1929 Mackenzie Trench design that was popularized by Doctor Who.

    • by Dan541 (1032000)

      I believe the Police also used the Police Boxes to call HQ for updates as they didn't have portable radios back then.

      • Yup. The light on top (which originally was a gas light but was later electrified) was a remotely-operated signal to bobbies on the beat that they had to call the station for instructions.

  • I was in Hong Kong this spring, most pay phones already have WiFi, along with many buses, most subway stations, trains, coffee shops and more. Instead of buying a mobile phone while I was there, I just turned off my cell signal and used Skype on my Android. $7/mo/device (USD) for unlimited WiFi in the city with PCCW. http://www.hongkongextras.com/internet_access.html [hongkongextras.com] http://wireless.netvigator.com/eng/index.htm [netvigator.com]
  • (I don't work for them, nor am i their customer)

    They have set up all the payphones and highly frequented places with wifi. Their mobile subscriptions offer a transparent authentication process for these hotspots. So if you have a mobile phone from then then it will automatically join these hotspots if you are close.

  • Good idea to provide more hot spots, to provide alternatives to phone towers, that sort of thing. But why free? You don't want to have a pay phone type money slot, too vulnerable to robberies (a major problem with the traditional pay phone that always showed signs of pilfering damage). But how about, the first transaction your phone or tablet or laptop makes after making a wifi connection with that "public hot spot" is a debit, a charge? The electronic equivalent to "Deposit 25 cents please" ? You don'

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