Back in 2014, New York City adopted a project to convert old payphones into wireless hotspots… a strategy that worked out brilliantly to bring wireless connectivity to one of the greatest cities in the United States. Prior to this project launch, NY mayor Bill de Blasio intended to have over 10,000 access points across the five boroughs.

It didn’t happen in 2014. In fact, Google took up the project to create Google-branded kiosks in 2015.

It wasn’t enough.

And New York City being New York City, they turned to the next most widespread item littering the massive spiderweb of sidewalks.

Trash cans.

That’s right, New York City is about to be populated by a legion of smart trash cans… or so Massachusetts own BigBelly certainly hopes so. BigBelly manufactures smart, self-powered waste management and recycling solutions. Not only will these Wi-Fi hotspots be tucked out of sight, they’ll be solar powered and so much more.

The standard issue smart trash can from BigBelly are equipped with Qualcomm chips to serve as sensors that detect when a can is full or just too smelly. When either of these conditions exist, a text is generated to alert sanitation to manage the issue. In this regard, BigBelly isn’t alone. There are actually a number of companies that offer very similar solutions. In fact, smart waste management is very much on the rise.

Big Belly, on the other hand, is the only company adding wireless connectivity to the game.

What’s really incredible about this deal is that there are enough waste containers throughout the city to create 100% coverage. Wi-Fi would be available in every nook and cranny of New York City. For free. Let that sink in. New York City is massive and thick with humans wanting Wi-Fi access.

Now, the business-minded are probably wondering, “That must have a hefty cost associated with it. How are they going to pay for such a thing?” To that, BigBelly is quick to remind us of value-added services that can be attached… such as advertising. Say, for instance, a consumer walking down the streets of NYC draws near a Starbucks… an ad could be pushed to their device.

There are other benefits that fall into the realm of public safety. One way the widespread Wi-Fi would help the city would be to push out public service announcements and emergency alerts. Imagine a waste receptacle (an item rampant within a city like NYC) that can display warnings or emergency alerts.

This, of course, is just a tip of a very large iceberg… one that will open up a massive business with the Internet of Things and waste management. Imagine smart trash cans that can predict where consumers produce the most waste, detect pollution issues or enable/enhance weather studies. In a country where post-consumer waste is continually becoming an issue, this could be a boon.

Most of us don’t really consider how waste management affects our daily lives… at least not until waste management goes on strike and you’re left with steaming piles of garbage. Of course, it wouldn’t matter how smart the waste bins became, that particular issue must be resolved on another level. But including waste management in the Internet of Things is a smart move, one that could benefit large cities in many ways. Adding large scale, free Wi-Fi access is just one of such perk.

This new Wi-fi test will start out smell, er, small. The first launch will be one hundred smart cans, cans that will offer speeds of 50-75 Mbs/second. That’s fast, fast enough to run a small business. Naturally the big pushback will be from big telcos. What happens when one telco wins the bid for this network and consumers/businesses leave their current wireless solution in droves? New York City could wind up with a bit of a provider war on its hands. In the end, however, this is all about levelling the playing field by offering wireless access to all.

I applaud New York City for this initiative. Will it succeed? Or will this Internet of Things wind up scrapped in a trash can, unconnected and unaware?

What do you think? What difficulties will BigBelly and NYC face with this initiative?

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