NYC Shines Light on Wi-Fi

By Ed Sutherland

August 20, 2004

A plan is afoot to mount wireless services equipment on metro-area lampposts, specifically for cellular and maybe even for high-speed Wi-Fi.

A plan by NYC to rent the tops of city lampposts could boost the usage of Wi-Fi phones where home phones are scarce. In an effort to entice cellular providers into under-served neighborhoods, Gotham officials are offering companies a discount on payments to the city if cell providers market cheap Wi-Fi phones in some areas.

In order to relieve congested cellular networks and increase their capacity, wireless companies T-Mobile USA, Nextel , IDT and three other carriers are urging the city to allow equipment on ubiquitous lampposts. The plan would place cellular gear atop nearly 10 percent -- 18,000 -- of NYC's 200,000 lampposts.

Although the plan is still being studied, the city could garner a total of $21.6 million from the companies over a 15-year period. Depending on their location, space on the lampposts could rent for between $10,000 to $100,000 per year, according to the Western Queens Gazette.

City light poles, traffic light standards and highway sign support poles would be used by cell carriers and others, including IDT's VoIP unit, to place antennas, base stations, access points, and other gear.

The city has been carved into three sectors for the franchises. Zone A would include much of Manhattan. Zone B covers the entire city. Zone C includes Community Planning Districts where five percent of residents do not have telephone service.

For Wi-Fi onlookers, the part of the initiative of most interest is an incentive by NYC lowering the lamppost rental in wealthier areas, if a company opts to offer inexpensive Wi-Fi phones to neighborhoods where less than 95 percent of residents have a phone in their home. IDT is the first to agree to the proposal.

While unavailable to comment on specifics regarding the NYC proposal, IDT in April announced plans by June to begin rolling out inexpensive Wi-Fi phone service the carrier hopes will challenge traditional cellular carriers. Aimed at the low- to moderate-income household, IDT said the service would cost $2 per month, with users paying less than 5 cents per minute.

First available in a two-mile area of the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, N.J., the service will expand to more cities by September.

"I think it is a good idea, and it gets the coverage to areas which are ignored," says Om Malik, author and broadband commentator.

Vivato's bridge router is one of the devices being considered to be placed on city light and traffic poles.

While the plan is wide-ranging, there are limits. For instance, the telecommunications gear can only be placed on poles located at city intersections, and the appearance of the hardware must meet with the approval of the NYC Art Commission. The commission guidelines require equipment to match the color of light poles, forbid the use of logos, and limit the size of equipment used by companies.

In addition, a Brooklyn-based group of activists are fighting the spread of unregulated cell transmissions.

No word on municipal use of these lamppost products, but it might not be necessary. NYC recently launched field tests of Wi-Fi equipment designed specifically for use by city emergency workers.



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