LinkNYC is replacing more than 7,500 payphones across New York City with structures offering free gigabit Wi-Fi and digital services, paid for by advertising. With almost one million users and counting, LinkNYC is a model solution to bring connectivity to cities around the globe.
Nominating Company: Intersection, New York, New York
Venue: New York City
Category: Public Spaces
In 2014, the City of New York issued a Request for Proposal that called on technologists and designers to reimagine the City’s obsolete payphone infrastructure. As a result, LinkNYC is a groundbreaking public-private partnership between the City of New York and a consortium of private companies to transform access to connectivity and create a new platform for civic services by launching the largest and fastest free, public Wi-Fi network in the world. Replacing more than 7,500 outdated payphones, each Link delivers free gigabit Wi-Fi, phone calls, two USB ports for device charging, a tablet to access wayfinding, maps, city services and a 911 emergency button. Free to all users, LinkNYC is funded by advertising on the kiosks’ two 55-inch digital displays, offering a hyperlocal medium for brands to engage with consumers that will also generate more than $500 million in revenue for the City.
With 8.4 million residents, 57 million annual tourists and 800 different languages spoken, New York City is one of the largest, most diverse, and pedestrian-focused cities in the world. LinkNYC needed to be a product that met the needs of people of all backgrounds and abilities while bridging a digital divide for the millions of New Yorkers without access to high-speed Internet. Difficulties included designing for multiple demographics and providing accessibility to all, while offering valuable services and messaging through the digital displays.
To meet the unique needs of the City of New York, its citizens and its businesses, we created a seamless and ad-free Wi-Fi experience to start. We conducted user research with citizens who represented the City’s diverse range of needs including city employees, the elderly, business owners, digital natives and underserved communities. Through iterative conception and rough prototypes, we learned how specific proposed features resonated or didn’t with each test group, informing LinkNYC’s design and features. As the rollout continues, anonymized, aggregate data of how people interact with the Links is being used to develop insights to improve the experience. Modular hardware and an Android operating system allow for continuous updates to ensure LinkNYC remains useful for users, the City and advertising partners for years to come.
Since the project commenced, the City has realized hundreds of new jobs and millions in economic activity. Almost one million people have registered to use the Wi-Fi and tens of thousands of phone calls are being made each week. Meanwhile, brands like MillerCoors, Delta, and Netflix are leveraging the flexibility and intelligence of LinkNYC’s advertising platform to engage with consumers in new ways, all while helping finance a valuable public service. LinkNYC now has more than 145 million impressions a week in the age 1 8-and-over category. This is nearly three times that of the closest competing digital out-of-home product in New York City. In 2017, Link will also expand internationally, bringing digital innovation, free gigabit Wi-Fi and a new advertising platform to the streets of London and cities across the United Kingdom.
The City of New York