Out With Payphones, In With Links

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Around town, Kubrickian obelisks of information are popping up. The thin, tall towers -- dubbed “Links” -- are the brainchild of consortium CityBridge, and are the supposed solution to the outdated payphones that clutter the sidewalks. According to CityBridge's website, “LinkNYC is a first-of-its-kind communication network that will replace over 7,500 pay phones across the five boroughs.”

A bit of a hyperbole, as the Links are little more than updated payphones than “first-of-its-kind;” more like “the next evolution in a long line of technologies.”

"Each link…[provides] superfast, free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging and a tablet for access to city services, maps and directions," CityBridge's website continues.

Most of the Links are in Midtown, with a few in Queens, and the closest one to King’s is on Lafayette Street and Hogan Place, near the courts. I checked one out on Broadway and 40th and, despite being in beta-phase, they actually are very useful.

The dimensions are much more ergonomic to the flow of the sidewalk -- a plus over the bulky, obstructive payphone booths that can block traffic. Designed by Antenna Design, who also designed three new fleets of subway cars for the city, the obelisks are about as wide as an iPad, and nearly eight feet tall. The wide, flat sides are LCD screens, flipping through various adverts (how the towers are paid for), and the occasional self-promoting twitter grab: “Follow the progress @linknyc on Twitter.” The design is simple and sleek. Each Link blends in, does not seem out of place and is tall enough to be easy to find.

The applications, powered by Android, are useful enough to make integration sensible. Currently there are the options of Maps, City Services and Call. Call is the old-timer of the group. Nation-wide, free phone calls supported by Vonage -- pretty straightforward. Maps, arguably the most useful app as of now, is the standard Google Map app. The touchscreen monitor is a bit slow for dragging and typing -- but again, the tech is still in testing. Perhaps the least useful to college students is the City Service app. Tapping the orange 311 icon, the user is met with a list of options, including “make a complaint,” “social services,” and “my neighborhood.” There is also a big, red, unmistakable button marked 911.

However, all anyone truly cares about is free Wi-Fi. Each of the planned 7,500 Links offers Wi-Fi at the cost of your email address.

“Each gigabit Link is powered by an all-new, purpose-built fiber optic network that delivers speeds up to 100 times faster than average public Wi-Fi," CityBridge's website noted.

Each Link is supposed to support hundreds of users at once but only time will tell if the network will hold up to the demand.

With $200 million invested in an eight year project, CityBridge has its work cut out for it. This effort may truly be “first-of-its-kind” but it may also end up as just another rung in the ladder of technological evolution.

CityRyan Turner