5 perfect bidders for NYC citywide Wi-Fi network: Google, Facebook, Boingo, Skype, TimeWarner

Last week we posted New York City’s public tender seeking bidders for a citywide free Wi-Fi network via the city’s pay phones. The network has to make money from advertising and other services. I will eliminate the usual suspects (Verizon and AT&T) as primary bidders because what we’re looking for here is a non-telco, innovative approach.  Of course any of the companies below could form a partnership with AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint.

Here are my favorite 5 potential primary bidders for this project:

(1) Boingo

Boingo is a Wi-Fi aggregator with a worldwide network of Wi-Fi hotspots and roaming agreements; it also has experience setting up Wi-Fi hotzones in sports stadiums where a lot of people are trying to gain access to the network at the same time. In addition, Boingo already has advertising agreements with major sponsors. Visitors to NYC who are already Boingo customers or customers of Boingo’s roaming partners will be happy to have access to this citywide Wi-Fi network.

(2) Google

Google has several things going for it: It dominates online advertising and since this network needs to support itself via ads (not to mention that the winning bidder needs to pay New York City millions of dollars annually), Google can put touchscreens on the pay phones to show Google maps with events nearby, local deals, news, etc. Since Google also sells its own smartphones (Google Nexus), users of the Nexus can connect automatically to this citywide Wi-Fi network when they are in New York. Visitors to New York can download walking guides sponsored by Google and its advertisers, which highlight certain merchants and event locations. It’s also a good way to sell last-minute tickets to shows around Times Square/Broadway.

Google has some experience running high-speed broadband networks via its Google Fiber and could use the pay phone project as an opportunity to lay down some fiber (or to lease fiber capacity) in NYC to sell high-speed broadband.

Another thing: Google owns YouTube and can show videos on the screens attached to the pay phones. Lots of opportunity for video advertising here, which is at street level and can be easily seen by pedestrians.

Given Google’s latest unexpected acquisition (the drone maker, Titan Aerospace), this is not such a far-fetched project for them.

(3) Facebook

Facebook has existing advertising agreements and owning the Wi-Fi network of a city like New York will allow it to do more location-based advertising, video advertising, etc. If rumours of a Facebook smartphone turn out to be true, then the FB  smartphone could use the network as well.

(4) Skype

What if Skype turned all those pay phones into Skype phones? Now add video screens for advertising or video calling and you’ve got a true 21st century pay phone.

(5) Comcast/Time Warner/Cablevision

The cable companies have been setting up Wi-Fi hot zones in many areas in the Northeast so providing free Wi-Fi in New York City would be a logical step. The cable companies need a wireless play as more people are viewing videos on their smartphones and tablets (and many people are opting for a TV-less lifestyle). They don’t have licensed wireless spectrum (yet) so owning the citywide Wi-Fi network of a densely populated city like New York makes so much sense. They have advertising agreements and can easily make money from this citywide network.

NOTE: Each of the companies listed above could form a partnership with other firms to deliver different portions of the services required by New York.

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Who do YOU think should bid on this project?


  1. The public pay telephones are finally able to evolve into smart public pay telephones. We have been waiting for years to be able to roll out a citywide wifi network. These new smart public pay telephones will be able to provide wireless broadband service too. I’d like to hear if folks think that this should be a way to bring a “secure” lower cost broadband solution to smaller business’s and residents. What do you think? Telebeam invested millions of dollars into its public communication network by bringing electricity into its kiosks and could deliver these services now. It is the perfect company to lead this effort.