In an always-connected world, entering a space without Wi-Fi means missed e-mails, failed apps that run on wireless Internet and the unavailability of social media updates. New York City is taking steps to make sure it connects mobile users as much as possible. It recently began a project to turn all of its old-school phone booths into Wi-Fi hotspots. For city commuters, entering the subway is basically like stepping out of society. But for New York City, not anymore; the Big Apple (News - Alert) is providing wireless service in its 105-year-old subway system.
The first six subway stations went live in September 2011 and are located in the popular Chelsea area of Manhattan. The new service is part of a $200 million plan to connect the subway to the outside world. Transit Wireless, the company in charge of building and designing the network, is working with many carriers to provide cell phone and data connectivity services to all 277 underground stations in New York by 2017.
Transit Wireless was formed specifically to respond to the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s requirement to provide a shared wireless infrastructure to enable commercial wireless services for the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) riders within underground subway stations and related opportunities.
The service, sponsored by Google (News - Alert) Offers, is available on train platforms at six stations, all in the Chelsea neighborhood. Customers of T-Mobile and AT&T can also use cell phones in the six stations. Negotiations continue for telecom giants like Verizon (News - Alert) and Sprint to join.
While there have been concerns about noise pollution, the benefits of staying connected outweighed the concerns, said William Bayne Jr., CEO of Transit Wireless. The network will enable wireless coverage extension to all underground NYC subway stations, improved wireless consumer experience/utilization, customer access to expansive wireless applications and services, public safety/location-based services, support for NYC Transit Authority services, localized business promotion, backbone for digital advertising and the ability for wireless carriers to enhance traffic, data throughput and capacity.
Boingo Wireless (News - Alert) is one of the first clients for Transit Wireless. Boingo is known for providing Wi-Fi services in airports but now wants to enter the advertising game. Both companies see the move to wire the subways as a gold mine. Sponsoring Wi-Fi provides companies with the chance to advertise to more than 1.6 billion riders every year. And although Google Offers' sponsorship officially ends on Sept. 7, it could continue. Boingo and Transit Wireless said they have others in the pipeline, in case it doesn't.
"We definitely think we will be able to have continued sponsorship because this represents a really unique way for advertisers to really reach consumers," assured Dawn Callahan, Boingo's vice president of consumer marketing.
Some of the sponsorship money goes to cover operating costs, which Transit Wireless says can cost several thousand dollars a month per station. The MTA is working with Transit Wireless but says it will not incur any costs.
"There is an explosion of Wi-Fi utilization right now. There are a lot of new Wi-Fi devices that are entering the marketplace," Bayne said. "All that is really inviting for sponsors because it really exposes the sponsor's products and services through advertising to billions of ridership over the course of time."
The project will take almost seven years because of the complexity of the system. Bayne says that the subways' age and the fact that it is open around the clock present special challenges.
The company is working on the project on weekends and during off hours. In his office in Queens, Bayne and his staff are working on the next installment of 30 stations along the west side of Manhattan. Time Square and Columbus Circle, two of New York's busiest stations, are in the next group to be wired by the end of the year.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman