Voice over IP to Replace Payphones in NYC?

Last week, artists from New York City competed to design the next generation of public communication stations that will replace payphones throughout the city when the contract for the maintenance and operation of existing payphones expires in October 2014.

Participants in the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge were asked to create an information station prototype that will replace the nearly 11,000 public payphones throughout New York’s five boroughs. The artists were judged and awarded in six different categories: connectivity, creativity, visual design, functionality and community impact.

If the winning prototypes like NYFi, the winner in the connectivity category, are adopted, the current phone booths will be turned into digital information hubs with community computers and free public Wi-Fi. Many of the designs feature smart screens for making calls over the Internet and sidewalk sensors for advertising and raising awareness about environmental issues.

“New York City’s public pay telephone network has incredible potential,” said Rahul Merchant, Chief Information and Innovation Officer for the mayor’s office in a statement. “By collaborating with the city’s vibrant technology community to develop creative and forward-thinking ideas, this infrastructure could become one of our most important technological assets, helping define the 21st Century streetscape in cities around the world.”

In the past year, the Bloomberg administration has already begun testing ideas for alternative uses for public payphone spaces, including providing free public Wi-Fi at a few payphone locations around the city and launching interactive touch screens around Union Station.

What does this mean for Voice over IP?

With the widespread use of the Internet and the continued adoption of mobile applications and cloud computing, individuals and businesses are moving away from landline phone service.

In November 2012, AT&T petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to plan for the retirement of traditional phone networks and transition to an all-IP telecommunications model. In response, the FCC predicted that the PSTN will be obsolete by 2018.

But with movements like Reinvent Payphones and the potential for citywide adoption of IP telephony, the end of landline phone service could come even sooner.

Though it may seem like a big transition from the traditional landline phone service we grew up with, individuals and businesses that make the switch to Internet-powered communications are enjoying immense benefits.

Open Access. Businesses with Voice over IP can access their business communications via an online portal or a mobile application. Employees that are equipped with a unified communications platform can access business communications from any location with Wi-Fi.

Mobility Features. With Internet-based communications, employees can work from any location, which offers staff the flexibility to work from home or elsewhere. Features like Automatic Call Forwarding connect an employee’s business line to any web-enabled device, so employees can take calls from their smartphone, desktop computer, tablet, laptop, or desk phone.

The functionality of VoIP services goes far beyond anything PSTN solutions could ever offer, especially as cities like New York City move toward IP telephony. Employees that are traveling or out of the office for business will be able to access their communications from any location.

What do you think of the move toward Voice over IP? Do you think replacing payphones with public Wi-Fi is a good idea? Tell us in the comments below.

By: Victoria Fields