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Free public communications network rolls out in New York City

Communication hubs will provide free public Wi-Fi, voice and video calls, device charging and tablets for internet browsing, access to city services, maps and directions

New York City has begun rolling out a communications network that will replace more than 7,500 public phones across the city’s five boroughs with new structures called Links.

The LinkNYC project is a partnership between the City of New York and CityBridge, a NYC-based consortium that includes Intersection, Qualcomm and CIVIQ Smartscapes.

Each Link will provide superfast, free public Wi-Fi, voice and video calls, emergency 911 calls, device charging and an Android tablet for internet browsing, access to city services, maps and directions.

Although the project is expected to cost $200m, the services will be free of charge because they will be funded through digital advertising displayed on video screens on each unit, which is expected to generate more than $500m in revenue.

LinkNYC is described as “the biggest, fastest public Wi-Fi project involving hundreds of miles of brand-new, purpose-built fibre-optic cable to provide unprecedented Wi-Fi access at gigabit-speed to more than eight million people”.

Although installation of the Links has begun, LinkNYC says only 510 will be up and running in the project’s beta phase.

Starting in Manhattan, LinkNYC wil have to install 10 Links a day across two sections of Manhattan, the South Bronx, Jamaica Queens, Staten Island and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to reach the target for the beta phase by July 2016.

The beta phase is aimed at giving New Yorkers an opportunity to try out the Links’ features and provide feedback to help improve the user experience.

More apps and services will be rolled out over the next few months and over the next decade, according to LinkNYC.

Read more about Wi-Fi security

When the project is complete, LinkNYC plans to have Links within 150 feet of each other, even though each will have a signal radius of up to 400 feet and will be able to handle up to 500 users simultaneously, reports Gizmodo.

Like any Wi-Fi network, LinkNYC will remember devices, enabling users to have instant Wi-Fi access whenever they are in the city, even after an extended absence, the report said.

LinkNYC does not mention anything on its website about security, but according to US reports, the network offers encryption and CityBridge says the privacy policy forbids sharing users’ personal data with any third party.

Security experts say all Wi-Fi connections should use strong encryption, such as the WPA2 encryption standard.

Without strong encryption, there is a threat that if an attacker gains access to a wireless network, they can cause a lot of damage, such as intercepting usernames/passwords, taking control of computers on the network, changing browsing to websites that deliver malware or capture credentials, or using the network to perform various anonymous or illegal activities.



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