Times Square 'Mobile Zone' Hot Spot Not So Hot

NY Times SquareTwo years ago, CBS promised to "light up" midtown Manhattan with the launch of the CBS Mobile Zone, a WiFi network for connecting laptops, cell phones and other devices to the Web for free. The hot spot would would stretch more than 20 city blocks from Times Square to Central Park South and from 6th Avenue to 8th Avenue.

So, does that mean all the people now lounging in lawn chairs and milling around the closed-off Times Square have the added benefit of fast Internet access? Not necessarily.

A usage report earlier this year by NYCwireless, a nonprofit group that's set up public WiFi networks in New York City parks such as Bryant Park, found connecting to the Web via the CBS Mobile Zone to be spotty at best. "Well, it's not hopeless, but CBS is definitely not blanketing the area with WiFi the way they made it sound in the press release," wrote NYCWireless' Klaus Ernst in a post on WiF-Fi Net News in January.

My own experience using the service periodically in the last couple of years matches up with that assessment, typically failing to get a strong enough signal to go online. Certainly, midtown Manhattan has to be one of the tougher places to create a WiFi network given the density of tall buildings and "noise" from competing WiFi signals.

Can't the Tiffany network do better?

CBS Interactive President Quincy Smith said last week that the network hasn't had a lot of complaints about the WiFi service, which it started as a six-month pilot program with the MTA and technology providers including Tropos, BIG, Fon and Ning. CBS has mainly supplied buildings and billboards to house the network's 18 transmitters and other WiFi gear placed at various midtown locations.

Smith said the Mobile Zone has attracted a small but loyal user base, with people using it 2.5 to 3 hours a month on average. "What we're hoping is that as the summer months progress we'll have more people coming to it," he said, noting that CBS plans to do more marketing for the WiFi service. Signs above certain subway stops have been used to help promote it so far.

For now, don't expect to pull up a chaise lounge in Times Square and watch CSI on your laptop.

2 comments about "Times Square 'Mobile Zone' Hot Spot Not So Hot".
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  1. Jane Lenz from MEDIA SPORTS PRODUCTION, LLC, June 23, 2009 at 3:21 p.m.

    Strong concept I am very excited about as with anything the learning curve is a bit longer than anticipated. We are all jumping to the internet for more all the time just as emailing replaced fax machines, text messaging and IMing is the new quiet and documented phone call. SOON very SOON we will be on those chaise lounges on Times Square.

  2. Dana Spiegel, June 24, 2009 at 12:28 p.m.

    Smith says 2.5-3 hours a month? I'd like to talk with him. NYCwireless get average use of 2.5-3 hours a DAY.

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