New York City is one of the world’s most advanced, connected cities in the world. A walk through Manhattan will reveal commuters, business professionals, students and artists with the latest in smartphones to help them stay connected with the fast pace of city life.
With smartphones so prevalent, it may seem surprising to even think about payphones or phone booths – a technology that is quickly going the way of the typewriter and telephone operators. However, during Hurricane Sandy, many New Yorkers without electricity to charge their mobile devices relied on payphones to make calls and check on family and friends. Phonebooths provide a vital source of communication during times of disaster, particularly if cell-phone towers are out of service.
Phonebooths in New York City are getting an upgrade from coin-operated landline phones to Internet-enabled hotspots with community information, directions to landmarks and local retailers, and emergency assistance. The large, touch-screen displays are similar to a smartphone screen, and are used not only to make outgoing calls and receive information in times of emergency, but provide helpful information on local retailers, the subway system and maps of the city.
Some questions remain about the physical durablity and safety the new, hi-tech booth. Tom Touchet, CEO of City 24×7, the company leading the project – which works with Cisco to provide the network technology which powers the LG Flat Panel displays – attested to their durablity, noting that they have been installed in other high-traffic areas such as Newark, New Jersey without sustaining damage. The booths were operational in areas with power during the hurricane, providing a vital form of communication – displaying emergency information from City Hall.
City 24×7’s current plan is to install 250 “Smart Phone Booths” across all five boroughs of New York City, including high density areas such as Times Square, Grand Central Station and World Trade Center. They also plan to expand to other major cities including Miami, Los Angeles and Boston.
While New York City offices might still rely on landline connections, it has become clear that the future will be dominanted by smartphones. The innovation seem in these new smart phone booths will not only help travelers and residents navigate the city and find a bite to eat, but have already proven useful in emergency situations, including Hurricane Sandy and during a police incident in Times Square.