“They're on!” The irrepressible Jennie Bourne wrote me when she connected to one of the first of 7,500 free Gigabit Wi-Fi kiosks here in New York. They are thin, fast, and attractive. Capacity is now 10x what it was a few years ago. The once marginal offering is now robust.
Most of us have Wi-Fi at home and work; add a network like this and you'd rarely need to use expensive LTE bandwidth unless you are out driving. That's great for consumers, frightening for telcos and their stockholders. LinkNYC is crucial to NY's plan to connect everyone. To protect Wi-Fi, City Counsel Maya Wiley has become a player in 3GPP & IEEE standards. See 8,550,405 New Yorkers: Protect WiFi from LTE-U/LAA. LinkNYC is working far below -72 dBm and 3GPP threatens that. Today's WiFi can work at -72 dBm and even -90 dBm
How fast is it? Miles Green writes, "We returned from a week long vacation and found that it took about three hours for our trip photos to upload to iCloud via our home cable internet service. That same transfer made on a LinkNYC connection was able to complete in about two minutes." The network isn't loaded yet and Green is a company engineer, but I think you get the point.
I believe it is stupid not to build a Wi-Fi network like this in almost every city, whether public or private.
The sooner you get the bits to a landline, the cheaper the network will be, Bill Smith of AT&T taught me several years ago. 70-90% of cellphone data already goes straight to Wi-Fi. A build like this can probably cover the majority of the remainder demanded in dense areas. That's where carriers have the most need for capacity.
Consider Australia, where they are building a National Broadband network with fiber, cable, and DSL. It's had a rough few years but may be coming together. If they put kiosks like this wherever they could, they effectively double the spectrum. Consumers would save a great deal of money. The companies can save the investments in more towers. It wouldn't be that expensive because they are already tearing up the streets to put in fiber. Politically impossible, I think, but from a technical point of view the right thing to do.
I believe "bottoms-up," Wi-Fi First networking can deliver bits at a fraction of the cost of wireless towers in most cities. Wi-FI is now built into every phone; the LinkNYC stations can do most of what people need on the go. LTE towers will still be necessary but most of the traffic will go Wi-Fi. French networks are being built this way, one reason wireless in France costs about a third of what it does here. Bottoms-up, especially from home gateways, probably halves the cost of a wireless network and eliminates spectrum shortages.
New York's network is being paid for by advertising and related services. It's completely privately funded and even returning a profit to the city. The city, under Maya Wiley, put out a request for proposals and chose this one. There's some silliness about a "public-private partnership" because that's a popular buzzword. It's a private venture with ordinary city regulation. PPP's sound good but many are scams and failures.
A government run program can be very effective, as Chattanooga and Hamburg prove. Other muni builds have been disasters, including Burlington and Provo. Often, the ones that work well have existing municipal utilities; the disasters were often led by a team with little network building experience. This should be a practical decision, not an ideological one.
In some mostly rural areas, no company is willing to come in without a big subsidy. Low density areas rarely have substantial competition; the few with the right facilities often extort the subsidy program. The U.S. Broadband Stimulus probably wasted more than half the $7B. The recipients of the Connect America funding have been bragging to Wall Street how much of the money goes to profit, not building broadband. The English newspapers have reported that BDUK billions were squandered. India's universal service fund has produced almost nothing. Hillary Clinton's team has a naive idea of throwing money at the problem.
The best approach I've seen is to require the buildout from a company spending their own money and keeping costs down. I call that "Kurth Solution," named for the German regulator who made this work for broadband to the "white spaces" on the map. The companies bidding for 4G spectrum were required to build in the white spaces before they could build the profitable cities. Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom delivered extremely quickly while keeping spending down. Of course they lowered their auction bid, but WIK Consulting, the top German firm, calculated the reduction was very modest. It was certainly much less than the companies would have demanded as a subsidy.
New York actually did something similar, if the rumors are true. The company initially wanted to hold off on the less profitable parts of town. Maya Wiley said no deal until they expanded the buildout. They didn't agree to the whole city but are going to all five boros.
There are issues, of course. Privacy problems were noted by the NYCLU and NY Mag. They did affluent, commercial areas first but are now expanding. Many areas are not on the map below, disproportionately the poorer areas. Smart regulation will be very important solving these.
""Connectivity for everyone" has been Bob Frankston's call for 15 years.