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New York Experiments With Wi-Fi From Payphones

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the network-effects-in-full-effect dept.

Wireless Networking 56

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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FR0$T PI$$ (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40629937)

Suck it modafuckas!

Nothing new (5, Interesting)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#40630011)

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

Re:Nothing new (1)

Canazza (1428553) | about 2 years ago | (#40630359)

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 anything), but it's there, and it works for surfing atleast.

Re:Nothing new (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#40630445)

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.

Re:Nothing new (1)

jrumney (197329) | about 2 years ago | (#40634019)

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.

Re:Nothing new (1)

reason (39714) | about 2 years ago | (#40635681)

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

Seems logical enough... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#40630023)

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?

Re:Seems logical enough... (4, Interesting)

nurb432 (527695) | about 2 years ago | (#40630093)

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...

Re:Seems logical enough... (1)

Provocateur (133110) | about 2 years ago | (#40630269)

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

Re:Seems logical enough... (2)

MP*Birdman (315788) | about 2 years ago | (#40630283)

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.

"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. An integrated touch screen would display maps, ads or payment interfaces, and an LED street light would be perched at the top of the pole."

Re:Seems logical enough... (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 2 years ago | (#40631393)

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.

London (0)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 2 years ago | (#40630037)

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

Re:London (4, Funny)

SilverJets (131916) | about 2 years ago | (#40630063)

And if you ask nicely The Doctor will upgrade your connection so that you can use it from anytime and anywhere.

Re:London (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40630191)

And if you ask nicely The Doctor will upgrade your connection so that you can use it from anytimey-wimey and anywhere.

Fixed it

Re:London (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40636027)

Impressive would be from anytime, anywhere, and any universe, even parallel ones where your companion is eternally stuck.

NYC phone service (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40630053)

New Yorkers are cunts. 8 million cunts. The whole damned city is a festering sewer and America would be a better place without it.

Re:NYC phone service (1)

germany-runt (950755) | about 2 years ago | (#40630073)

In 100 years or so if the ocean levels keep rising you might get your wish!

Re:NYC phone service (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40630613)

NO, NO! They'll invade the rest of the state like burning rats fleeing a sinking ship!

Re:NYC phone service (1)

khr (708262) | about 2 years ago | (#40630643)

One of the local Manhattan mini-storage companies had ads earlier this year "if you leave the city, you'll be stuck living in America."

Outfit them with toilets (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40630095)

If you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to hide!

Why did payphones die? (1, Funny)

fotoguzzi (230256) | about 2 years ago | (#40630123)

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?

Re:Why did payphones die? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40630229)

Won't that make it easier for drug dealers to deal drugs?

Does it really matter? They're going to move their product one way or another. Easy or difficult, it *will* get from the dealer's hands to the user's body.

Re:Why did payphones die? (4, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Why did payphones die? (3, Interesting)

KhabaLox (1906148) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Why did payphones die? (1)

superdave80 (1226592) | about 2 years ago | (#40630337)

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!

Re:Why did payphones die? (2)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#40631095)

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.

Re:Why did payphones die? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40633217)

Payphones are disappearing off of the NYC streets. The companies that support them most likely make their money off of the advertising on the side of the booths.

Rather than having their non-income generating phone booths disappear entirely (and lose their big advertising revenue), they are graciously spending $200 per booth to add wi-fi.

Re:Why did payphones die? (1)

gorzek (647352) | about 2 years ago | (#40630715)

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

Re:Why did payphones die? (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#40630841)

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!

Re:Why did payphones die? (1)

danhaas (891773) | about 2 years ago | (#40633279)

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.

Re:Why did payphones die? (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 2 years ago | (#40633905)

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 bandwidth gobbler... directly responsible for cell phone service providers capping customer data plans and the like. It's also why DSL / cable modem prices haven't dropped in years, as people use more bandwidth instead of just getting their browsing done faster.

And with services like Hulu now getting enough of a selection that it can replace cable / satellite TV service, and is on the virge of being capable enough to become the sole TV service for many people, this would be plenty of incentive for people to get their own terrestrial internet service.

But personally, I expect a wireless future... If AT&T can provide $12/month DSL, there's no reason they can't provide UNLIMITED wifi through their entire service area for $12/month or, probably, a bit less than that. Bandwith problems are easily solved by just installing more DSL lines and wifi APs in an area, and just lowering the transmit power on each to serve a smaller radius. Wifi autonegotiation, and seamless hand-off between APs is being worked-on by IEEE right now, too, so the last hurdle behind a horde of wifi APs becomming a replacement for cellular service, is soon to disappear.

Re:Why did payphones die? (1)

alen (225700) | about 2 years ago | (#40630617)

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.

Re:Why did payphones die? (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#40630857)

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!

Barcelona (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40630179)

Here in Barcelona, Spain, we have WIFI hotspots all around the city, they don't work really well but at least is free ( for the moment)

Verizon tried this in NYC (5, Informative)

IGnatius T Foobar (4328) | about 2 years ago | (#40630259)

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.

What's a payphone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40630311)

I think I heard of these before. What are they? I thought they were extinct.

I didn't read TFA (1)

idontgno (624372) | about 2 years ago | (#40630457)

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.

Whew (1)

PaddyM (45763) | about 2 years ago | (#40630485)

Who knows where Superman would have had to change otherwise.

Re:Whew (1)

RoverDaddy (869116) | about 2 years ago | (#40631703)

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.

Just saw a fortress payphone in the NYC subway (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40630989)

I was shocked to see it, they're so rare these days. WiFi service in the subway would be cool.

Police Boxes (2)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 2 years ago | (#40632677)

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.

Re:Police Boxes (1)

Dan541 (1032000) | about 2 years ago | (#40635045)

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

Re:Police Boxes (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 2 years ago | (#40639909)

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.

10,000 hotspots in Hong Kong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40632797)

In Hong Kong the PCCW hot spots were everywhere. If my hotel hadn't offered free wifi I would have been strongly tempted to try it out. At about ~$23US/mo for access it seems competitive with basic service in the US. Offers everything from a few minutes to "unlimited" monthly access.


Hong Kong Already Has This (1)

jmaddington (2459974) | about 2 years ago | (#40633949)

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]

Isn't it illegal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40634179)

I thought it was unlawful for government to enter into direct competition with a private business?

I work for a WISP and we successfully had a local government free access point network shut down because they were competing with us illegally.

Swisscom has been doing this for years. (1)

LordFolken (731855) | about 2 years ago | (#40636843)

(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.

Why Free? (1)

Toad-san (64810) | about 2 years ago | (#40638823)

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't make the transaction, permit the mini-billing? You don't get your connection. Bidda bing ...

And the user pays for his instant gratification and convenience instead of us taxpayers, thanka verra much.

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