As keeping the mobile life going becomes ever more important -- both to wireless customers and the providers who serve them -- AT&T says it has a new way to keep New Yorkers connected free.
Starting Tuesday, 25 solar-powered charging stations will sprout in parks, beaches and other outdoor spaces in the five boroughs, part of a pilot project from the wireless provider in partnership with the city. The stations -- 12.5-foot steel poles with three petal-shaped solar panels fanning out on top -- can accommodate up to six devices at a time regardless of wireless carrier, with dedicated ports for iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys and standard USB charging cables.
Designed by a Dumbo-based firm, Pensa, with solar technology from Goal Zero, a mobile solar start-up, they are to remain in place in spots like Union Square Park, Metrotech Plaza and Rockaway Beach for three to four weeks at a time until October. If successful, AT&T could expand to other cities. The project will cost $300,000 to $500,000.
"We view this as a commitment to being a part of the New York community as a corporate citizen but also as a way for New Yorkers to continue to engage with their technology as they continue to consume more and more data," said Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T's New York division.
It is also good for the company's bottom line. The city has more mobile customers than in any other market, and executives, who have promoted use of their network by providing free wireless in subways and at parks and cultural events, realized there was a need for more frequent charging.
And it is the biggest area of growth for the major telecommunications companies, said Eddie Hold, vice president of the Connected Intelligence unit at NPD Group, a market research firm.
"People are making less phone calls than they've made before and more importantly the newer generation of people are really not making many phone calls," he said. "To make money out of data services the telecom companies need to convince you to connect as many devices as possible. The more you connect, the more data you use, the more money they make."
The spark for the project came after Hurricane Sandy, when AT&T supplied diesel generators and cell towers on wheels to hard-hit neighborhoods in the five boroughs.
Working with Goal Zero, which makes portable solar chargers, and Pensa, which had been experimenting with creating stationary street chargers, the company won approval this spring from city Parks Department officials to test them. They will rotate locations -- including Orchard Beach in the Bronx, Governors Island, Pier 59 in Hudson River Park, Coney Island, the Staten Island Zoo and several cultural events.
In creating and testing the stations, said Chris Abbruzzese, vice president for marketing at Goal Zero, they found that consumers are aware of exactly how much of a charge they need to power a phone or tablet for, say, a commute home. Three 15-watt panels and a 168-watt-hour lithium ion battery pack can keep the stations operating through the night or five days without sunshine. The stations will allow a user to fill a smartphone in two hours, or grab a 30 percent charge in 30 minutes.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.