Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

Wi-Fi, Voice Calling Come to More New York City Subway Stations

Busy New Yorkers are about to get even more distracted.

Today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the body for New York City’s arteries of public transit, had completed the first phase of a citywide project to install Wi-Fi and voice-calling service in its subway stations.

Service is now expanded to 36 subway stations, including the six that were tested last year. Major stations, including Times Square and Rockefeller Center, are included in the expansion.

The project allows for voice calling, text messaging and Internet browsing from the station platforms — not on the trains themselves. And you’ll have to be a customer of participating wireless services to access voice and data.

Carriers AT&T and T-Mobile have already signed on to provide service for wireless voice and data for their customers. Executives from Verizon and Sprint were also in attendance at Gov. Cuomo’s press conference, as the two carriers say they plan to be a part of the network down under.

Wi-Fi is available through Boingo, and Transit Wireless is providing the infrastructure for the five-year project. Currently, the Wi-Fi is free through a sponsorship by HTC, which requires that the user watch an ad for the company’s new flagship smartphone before accessing the Wi-Fi.

The original plan to have the major stations wired by the end of 2012 was delayed in part by Hurricane Sandy.

New York City already offers free Wi-Fi service in 20 parks across five boroughs. And Google earlier this year brought free Wi-Fi to the Chelsea neighborhood (where the search giant has offices, marked by a giant sign), spanning a 13-block coverage zone.

So how does New York City stack up to other major metro areas? Surprisingly, it lags behind some in terms of underground Wi-Fi installation. Last year, London’s transportation authority introduced Wi-Fi service to 120 Tube stations, powered by Virgin Media, although it is mostly pay-as-you-go service and doesn’t include wireless calling.

In Asia, the JR East line in Tokyo is dotted with Wi-Fi hotspots, although, again, many require a prepaid pass; Hong Kong currently offers limited daily sessions of free Wi-Fi in 14 MTR stations. Indian Railways also just launched a pilot for free Wi-Fi Internet service on trains on the New Delhi-Howrah Rajdhani line.

But it’s often better to get it right than to get it first, as evidenced by the Wi-Fi service in San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system. BART commuters were promised that Wi-Fi would be widely available three years ago, but service is still notoriously unreliable.

(Feature photo courtesy of Leone Fabre/Flickr Creative Commons. Photo of girl in subway station courtesy of Hernan Seoane/Flickr Creative Commons.)

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik