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How smart cities like New York City will drive enterprise change

Mike Elgan | July 31, 2017
Laying high-speed fiber across an entire city and connecting sensor-based public Wi-Fi kiosks is good for the public -- and very good for business.

This is possible because LinkNYC kiosks are connected by fiber, courtesy of a network installed by carrier-neutral dark fiber startup ZenFi, which launched in 2014.

It's paid for by the advertising and costs nothing to taxpayers. In fact, the city is expected to earn $500 million over the 10-year Intersection contract.

London is the second Intersection city, where the project is called InLinkUK and the kiosks are called "InLinks." The London project is more modest, with a goal of around 1,000 kiosks. O'Donnell told me Intersection plans to deploy in 20 more cities after that.

Intersection is tightly conjoined with Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs company, which works to accelerate and guide the creation of smart cities. They even share an office in Manhattan. Other partners in the LinkNYC project include Qualcomm and ZenFi (BT is a partner for the London project).


Smart cities: the immediate impact

LinkNYC is already changing New York; two million people are now using the system -- twice as many as in January.

The existence of smart-city implementations like Intersection's LinkNYC means that New Yorkers won't actually need mobile contracts anymore. Most who would otherwise pay for them will no doubt continue to do so for the convenience. But those who could not afford a phone contract in the past will have ubiquitous fast connectivity in the future.

This strongly erodes the digital divide within smart cities. A 2015 study conducted by New York City found that more than a quarter of city households had no internet connectivity at home, and more than half a million people didn't own their own computer.

At the same time, smart city kiosks widen the gap between urban and rural people, where the urban take a big leap forward and the rural stay behind with no solution in sight.

Smart cities are built on citywide fiber networks, which can eventually (as with the case of ZenFi's network) connect 5G wireless antennas on every street corner and every floor of every office building back to the core network. This densification of the wireless networks is the true hero of the smart cities revolution, enabling not only smart-city kiosks, but capacity for high-speed wireless applications on smartphones and tablets, widespread IoT deployments, mobile augmented reality applications, self-driving cars and more.

It's also amazing that New York is leading the smart city charge. Because if the concept can make it there, it can make it anywhere. Dark-fiber deployments in New York typically cost far more than in just about any other city because of heavy unionization and the scale of any disruption when streets have to be closed for fiber installation.

New York's example in aggressively enabling thousands of high-speed kiosks also puts pressure on other U.S. cities to follow suit. The first step is not only to wire up entire cities with fast fiber, but to architect it in a way that enables flexible deployment, as ZenFi is doing. And this is the best part of the smart cities revolution.


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