More and more cities around the globe are rolling out free public Wi-Fi networks to help ensure their residents have access to high-speed internet.
Earlier this year, New York City began deploying its own Wi-Fi network called LinkNYC. The system is being built by a consortium called CityBridge, which includes companies like Intersection, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet (GOOG); Qualcomm (QCOM) and CIVIQ Smartscapes. Under a franchise agreement with NYC, CityBridge will put up between 7,500 and 10,000 LinkNYC kiosks across the city. So far, the company has about 300 beta versions of its LinkNYC stations around Manhattan.
Visiting the city that never sleeps? Here’s how you can browse the web at lightning speed with ease.
Find a LinkNYC Kiosk
There are only 300 LinkNYC kiosks in operation so far, which can make them difficult to find if you’re not in the right area of the city. Fortunately, LinkNYC’s website provides a map that shows you where the nearest kiosk is located.
To connect to LinkNYC’s open public Wi-Fi network, open your device’s Wi-Fi settings menu and look for the “LinkNYC Free Wi-Fi” network. You’ll then be asked to enter your email address.
LinkNYC says it won’t sell your email address to third-party advertisers, but that it will use it to send you updates about LinkNYC services. If you don’t feel comfortable using your own email, you can choose to make a new one just for LinkNYC. It doesn’t matter.
If the prospect of connecting to a open, unsecured Wi-Fi network triggers an instant panic attack, you’ll be happy to hear LinkNYC also offers a secure network that encrypts your browsing data. Unfortunately, the network is only available for iOS devices for now. Sorry Android owners.
Connecting to the network is the same as connecting to LinkNYC’s unsecured network. Just find the “LinkNYC Private” network in your Wi-Fi settings, enter your email address and you’re set.
But wait, there’s more
In addition to LinkNYC’s two Wi-Fi networks, each kiosk includes a built-in internet-connected tablet that you can use to surf the web, make free phone calls, check out local NYC services or dial 9-1-1. That last one proves particularly handy when a 7-foot tall man dressed as Elmo decides your $2 tip for taking a picture with him isn’t enough.
The tablet is slow in terms of responsiveness, but it gets the job done. To start, you simply walk up to the machine and tap the touchscreen. At the bottom of the display, you’ll see apps for the tablet’s web browser, a Vonage free calling app, NYC 311 City Services and Google Maps.
The LinkNYC web browser is just like the one you use on your own smartphone or tablet. Just open the app, tap the address bar and enter a website to start surfing.
Naturally, there are plenty of people who will decide that a free, public portal to everything the internet has to offer is the perfect opportunity to check out some more, er, adult material. Fortunately, LinkNYC has implemented a continuously update filter designed to keep people from accessing certain sites.
The Vonage app lets you place calls for free, but if you don’t have a pair of headphones to plug in, everyone on the street can hear what the person on the other end of the line is saying through the LinkNYC kiosk’s speaker.
The 311 City Services app provides you with a means to do things like pay parking tickets or check the city’s lost and found, which is especially helpful if you lose your phone in the back of a cab.
Finally, there’s perhaps the most useful feature of the LinkNYC tablet: Google Maps. Yep, just like on your smartphone, the Google Maps app provides you with directions for anywhere you need to go in the city. And when you’re downtown, you’re going to need it.
Privacy and security
At this point you’re probably wondering how LinkNYC keeps your browsing data private on a public tablet. Well, according to the company, the tablet automatically performs a factory reset when you log out, deleting any and all data you may have entered.
If you forget to log out, the tablet will ask if you’re still using it after 20 seconds of inactivity. If you don’t reply, the tablet will automatically reset itself.
LinkNYC says it doesn’t store any of your information when you’re connected to its Wi-Fi network and can only see individual URLs you visit through the tablet.
So what do you think of LinkNYC? Will you give it a shot the next time you’re in the Big Apple?