Friday 19 January 2024

5G and Wi-Fi Connectivity from Link5G and LinkNYC's Tall Towers

Link5G is LinkNYC’s second generation offering that aims to improve the digital connectivity in New York City. The official website says:

Conceived in 2021 (the Year of 5G), Link5G enables the equitable deployment of both 5G cellular coverage and Wi-Fi connectivity across the five boroughs. Using multi-tenant structures, transmitters for telecommunication service providers will be housed within Link5G kiosks, expanding 5G options and enhancing coverage in underserved areas.

Link5G kiosks will bring better cellular service, increased opportunities to connect to free Wi-Fi, and improved options for in-home broadband internet access.

90% of the new Link5G kiosks, which are enabled for 5G and feature the same free services as the original Link kiosks, will be deployed in The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and above 96th Street in Manhattan. Additionally, 13 Community Districts have been specifically chosen by New York City to receive a minimum number of kiosks. Link5G will enhance neighborhoods’ cellular connections and provide businesses and pedestrians with improved high-speed Wi-Fi coverage. Link5G’s 32 foot height ensures that a 5G signal is effectively broadcast from optimal height for all carriers to reach New Yorkers' mobile devices.

Urban Omnibus has a good explainer of the issue and the infrastructure here. Quoting from the article:

CityBridge largely failed to accomplish its goal of helping to bridge the digital divide in the six years after kiosk installation began. The company put the majority of its more than 1,800 LinkNYC units in Manhattan but relatively few in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, where neighborhoods lack at-home and mobile broadband at a higher rate. As THE CITY, the state comptroller and other news outlets have documented, the company fell short of ad revenue projections and was unable to pay $60 million it owed the city. The revenue shortfall resulted in an abrupt halt to kiosk installation, leaving many areas outside Manhattan without the access they were promised. The company faced bankruptcy in 2019. The city contemplated terminating the deal in 2020.

But despite the LinkNYC program’s history of delinquency, city officials are giving CityBridge another chance to bolster digital equity citywide: The company is now preparing to install hundreds of 32-foot-tall Link5G towers, beginning this summer. The city’s Public Design Commission approved the Link5G design for commercial and manufacturing areas at a meeting in December. Members postponed a vote on a residential rollout in order to review data on the service and infrastructural impacts of the towers’ first wave.

The new structures will be more than three times as tall as the original LinkNYC design. Like their predecessors, the lower part of the new structures will have a 911 button, USB ports, a tablet, calling capabilities and advertising displays. The structures will also provide free Wi-Fi. But the new designs will be topped by fifth-generation cellular network technology, or 5G, which will radiate from their upper chambers to enabled devices at street level. Multiple telecom companies could pay CityBridge to house their 5G equipment inside the chambers of a single structure. Their payments would bring in a new revenue stream to CityBridge, funding the company’s operations and expanded footprint.

The structures’ signals will supplement existing 5G networks that currently provide consumers speedy wireless internet service. City officials and CityBridge insist that more cell sites are necessary given the technical specifications of 5G, which require a “line of sight” to work: 5G is carried on millimeter waves that, unlike 4G frequencies, cannot penetrate most surfaces, whether a building or a bus.

Not everyone agrees that these look good or they will help in the future but there is a lot of support behind their installation. This article in NY Daily News for example argues:

Reliable wireless service requires the deployment of new infrastructure that supplements existing technology, such as rooftop antennas and underground fiber cable — or Link5G kiosks, which have space for up to five wireless carriers’ equipment. That means they can provide better, faster, and cheaper service for more people and small businesses nearby.

Bronx residents are not the only New Yorkers who could benefit from Link5G. Across New York City, approximately two-in-five households lack either a home broadband connection or mobile broadband through cell service. More than 1.3 million New Yorkers lack both. For these people, the social, educational, economic, and public safety consequences can be catastrophic. Here in the Bronx, nearly one in five teens cannot finish their homework because they live on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Link5G will eventually roll out to 2,000 locations, with 90% installed in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island and above 96th St. in Manhattan. The need for these kiosks in underserved areas is illustrated by the fact that Link5G’s predecessor, LinkNYC, has provided more than 13 million New Yorkers with free, high-speed wireless internet since 2016 and is used to make around 425,000 phone calls monthly. It also offers access to 911 emergency services and valuable community-oriented public service announcements.

Even in districts with historic or commercial corridors, where locals have questioned the need for these kiosks, it’s unwise to assume every person who lives in the neighborhood, commutes there for work or is visiting has the same access to connectivity. My constituents often commute to other boroughs for work; their ability to stay connected is a necessity — not a luxury.

Still, many critics see the kiosks — which stand only as tall as traditional light posts — and attack their location, size, or ad screens without acknowledging the benefits of the kiosks to the city at large.

Let us know what you think.

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