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Google, Cisco, Samsung circle NYC’s plan to turn payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots

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New York’s long-time proposal to reincarnate nearly 10,000 payphones as free wireless internet kiosks is only a winning bid away from becoming reality and some industry heavyweights, including Google(s goog), Cisco Systems(s csco), IBM(s ibm), Motorola Solutions(s msi) and Samsung, may be in the running for the contract.

According to a city document (pdf), the five were among 60 companies and organizations that participated in an NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) planning meeting in May about the project. While the tech sector was aptly represented, so were the wireless and cable industries. Both Cablevision(s cvc) and Time Warner Cable(s twc), which run public hotspot networks in the New York area, were present along with Verizon Wireless(s vz) and Transit Wireless, which is building Wi-Fi and cellular networks in NYC’s subway system.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that all or any of these companies will submit for bids the project. Bids are due today, but it may be several months before the city picks a winner.

One of the payphone banks NYC converted into a Wi-Fi hotspot in its 2012 trial (source: NYC)
One of the payphone banks NYC converted into a Wi-Fi hotspot in its 2012 trial (source: NYC)

The city first launched a pilot program in 2012, converting 10 payphone banks in three boroughs into Wi-Fi hotspots. But we didn’t hear much more about the project until the DoITT decided to move forward with it this spring. It coincides with several other wireless connectivity projects in the region, including Amtrak’s proposal to develop a dedicated wireless internet network in the Northeast corridor and the Transit Wireless’s below-ground network build.

Google is the most noteworthy of the list of interested parties. The company has pursuing many free public Wi-Fi projects as of late. It’s building hotspot networks in San Francisco parks, and as Gigaom learned in May, Google is working with Ruckus Wireless to plan and build a nationwide cloud-based business Wi-Fi network.