Users will get faster free Wi-Fi from hubs in New York

New York's 7,500 LinkNYC hotspots will get processor, Wi-Fi and screen upgrades every few years

New York City is replacing pay phones with new high-tech wireless hubs that will dish out free, high-speed Wi-Fi service, charge mobile devices and provide access to city services.

In coming months, the city will install about 7,500 LinkNYC hubs, which include an Android tablet for surfing the Internet, connecting to city services and making VoIP calls. The hub will also include a wireless hotspot for connecting smartphones, tablets and PCs to the Internet.

But the new technology has one potential challenge that pay phones didn't have: How do you keep the hubs -- also called Links -- up to date in a fast-changing technology world?

The project will handle that problem by bringing major technology upgrades to Links, at least during the first six years, a spokesman for the LinkNYC project said Monday. The city is still testing the Links and figuring out an upgrade schedule.

The upgrades will focus in part on increasing processing power and wireless speeds. 

Sitting at the center of Links is an Android tablet on which a user can surf the Internet, use pre-installed apps, or make phone calls. On each side of the Link are 55 high-definition displays for advertisements and city notices.

Qualcomm has provided some of the technologies for the Links, which are designed so the networking equipment, processor, tablet and other components can be regularly swapped out and upgraded.

Qualcomm is committed to maintaining and upgrading systems over the lifetime of Links, said Kiva Allgood, vice president at Qualcomm's Smart Cities and Industrial IoT initiative.

The goal is to keep the Links up to date with the latest technologies much like latest smartphones, Allgood said.

The Links and the Android tablets are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor with an Adreno 320 GPU. It'll be easy to snap out old technologies and plug in the latest processor and tablet, or change the screen to a higher resolution display, project organizers said.

The Links' Wi-Fi and modem technologies will also be upgradable. A Link has 802.11ac multi-mode MIMO chip for gigabit Wi-Fi. It also has a 3G modem for 911 emergency calling and location services. 

Qualcomm designs modems and Wi-Fi chipsets, which are used in other companies' products like smartphones and routers. The company didn't say whether upgrades would be made by the company or by partners.

LinkNYC is in beta, and product plans will be released to partners over time, Allgood said.

Systems like LinkNYC need hardware flexibility to keep up with new Internet of Things implementations, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

The way New York City uses the LinkNYC systems could change over time, and they may be the backbone to connect lighting systems, smart meters, traffic networks, connected cameras and other IoT systems, McGregor said.

Hardware changes like memory and modem upgrades will be needed over time, McGregor said. An example could be an upgrade to 5G connectivity, a technology designed to facilitate IoT and machine-to-machine communication.

But upgrades will need to be relevant, not random. For example, a processor upgrade would make sense if it's used to handle faster modems and high-resolution screens, McGregor said.

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