Muni Wi-Fi takes Manhattan

Cities from Philadelphia, Pa., to Portland, Ore., and many small towns in between have put muni Wi-Fi systems into place but, to date, there have been only whispers of interest from New York City. Now muni Wi-Fi is winging into America’s Gotham from an unlikely source. The CBS television network is partnering with city transportation agencies to deploy a 20 block pilot in the heart of mid-town.The media company is partnering with the citys Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City Transit to bring free, ad-supported Wi-Fi to an area that generally covers bustling Times Square–just in time for the Christmas season when the city teams with tourists (i.e. lots of eyeballs for all those ads.) As a general rule I find ad intrusions on my surfing offensive but, as a tourist in unfamiliar cities, I’ve often welcomed it and even sought it out.

For instance, ads have offered a lot of valuable information on interesting diversions from gambling when I’ve had to venture to Las Vegas on business. Without it, I might have missed Cirque du Soleil, the Righteous Brothers, and the Venetian’s exhibition of Expressionist painting–not that I couldn’t have seen them in New York but, in Vegas, they offered a pleasant respite from hyper-glitz. Given the enormous size of the potential audience that’s likely to see the ads over New York’s geographically compact “CBS Mobile Zone,” as it’s called, one wonders why a media company didn’t think of something like this before now.

The answer may be because the area is archetecturally challenging. It’s home to some of the densest steel and concrete structures in the world. Antenna placement will be critical to insure good signal coverage but the wide, long avenues that etch the city’s concrete canyons may make the task a bit easier than it at first seems.

For those of you who live in, or often visit, the Big Apple and want to try it out, the district more-or-less covers Times Square–from Central Park south to 42nd Street and east to west from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. This is my home territory so I’ll have an update in a few weeks after I take on the metropolis for a bit of holiday shopping and sight seeing. I hadn’t planned to pack a laptop on the trip but I’m eager to see how it works.

The service is being launched as a six-month trial. Already, the network is signing up advertising sponsors and a number of businesses in the area are being set up with routers to bring the signal indoors.

It will be interesting to see the results that the network gets from this effort. Elsewhere, private providers have pretty much given up on the ad-supported model and begun insisting on anchor tenancies because ads have not generated the volume of revenue needed to cover the cost of deployment plus the free service. CBS, however, has lined up an impressive array of partners that bring a lot of promise to its venture–Tropos, BIG, Fon, Ning, Goowy, Veoh, Yelp, 1020, Aptilo and Can-Do Entertainment. The company’s announcement says there’s “more to be added throughout the duration of the midtown offering. The ‘CBS Mobile Zone’ also provides interactive advertising opportunities that can be localized down to the individual billboard.”

Here’s CBS’s press release about the trial.

A number of stories have appeared online about this project, including Glenn Fleishman’s insights at Wi-Fi Networking News regarding the announcement’s confusion about WiMAX and Wi-Fi, and round-ups, complete with maps of the coverage, at CNet and Conde-Nast’s Portfolio.


  1. Steve Kuker says:

    This is great news, I work within the coverage footprint (West 55th Street & 6th Avenue) cant wait to try it out on my iphone, any word on when the system will be lit up?
    Thanks for the info!