NYC's free Wi-Fi network is getting a boost (a reliability boost, that is)

It's frustrating when you want to use a city service only to find it's out of order. It may be out of the city's control, but it still reflects poorly on the service. But there are smart city technologies that can help cities improve the services they provide to the community.

An example: New York City's LinkNYC provides free public phone calls, Wi-Fi, phone charging and more at its kiosks located throughout all five city boroughs. Now, with new technological capabilities from LinkNYC developer CityBridge (a consortium of Council Global Lead Partner Qualcomm, Associate Partner Civic Smartscapes and kiosk solutions company Intersection), the city will be able to conduct real-time monitoring and analytics — to take care of problems before someone complains. It's a prime example of why we recommend cities adopt analytics platforms and citywide communications enabling technologies as they work toward becoming smart cities. — Doug Peeples


LinkNYC's approximately 1,700 kiosks are intended to replace pay phones but they go several steps further: free gigabit speed Wi-Fi, free phone calls anywhere in the U.S., mobile device charging, digital displays, a dedicated 911 button. And other features will likely be added.

The city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) announced a pilot program earlier this month to add bus schedule information to the kiosks, which will appear on their 55-inch digital screens.

The city began installing KinkNYC kiosks in early 2016 and the network continues to expand as more kiosks are added. Not only do they provide convenience, they also offer broadband access for citizens who don't have their own connection.

Next step: ensuring reliability
Now the city is initiating a program to monitor the kiosks to ensure they are working and that all services are available 24/7. According to an article in Government Technology, City Council Member Ben Kallos discovered some kiosks in his district weren't providing the promised free phone calls. That led DoITT and the city council's Technology Committee to come up with a monitoring and maintenance system coordinated through hourly Link service data from LinkNYC service provider CityBridge.

As a result of the IoT-based monitoring program, the city plans to soon publish information on the kiosks' operating status. It's an important issue for the city because U.S. Census figures indicate that more than 730,000 residents don't have broadband access — and more than 3.7 million people have been using the service. "In a matter of weeks, New Yorkers are going to be able to see that for themselves when we publish a new open data set showing real-time status of all the functions of each kiosk," explained DoITT Commissioner Samir Saini.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.