Gray Boxes Being Attached to Street Poles Are Boring But Valuable

A technician installs a gray box on 89th Street. Photo by Peter.

Technicians have been installing gray boxes on light poles and street signs throughout the neighborhood in recent weeks, raising the obvious question: “What are they?”

Luckily, one of our tipsters asked a technician, who said they’re antennas for cell service. The city rents space on the light poles to telecom companies that install the antennas to improve service. They rent for as much as $400 a month, according to Crain’s.

Photo by Matthew Dybbuk on 93rd and West End Avenue.

While the city has been preparing to rent the poles for years, installation has been delayed as the city negotiates with the telecom companies. The city identified 250,000 possible sites for installations years ago, but only 4,000 have been reserved, Crain’s reported in July. Since then, it looks like cell installation has accelerated. Hopefully, that means cell service will gradually improve as our phones get faster.

(Come to think of it, people should note the “dead zones” on the UWS in the comments so maybe we can convince some companies to cover those areas better.)

NEWS | 31 comments | permalink
    1. Kath says:

      Interesting timing. I walk 30 blocks down West End Avenue daily after work, and for the past month – until today – I had major issues with my (Verizon) mobile calls cutting out every few blocks. Trying to remember where. Around 101st, 93rd I think it’d happen. Today it was smooth sailing!

    2. robert says:

      These are not “cell” at all. They are being installed exclusively for and by Verizon. They are boosters for their FIOS service. They are trying in install FIOS as an option re Spectrum internet & TV service in all buildings. They will not boost regular cell service for even Verizon cell users. Verizon/FIOS signal is notorious for being poor and the FIOS WiFi is no better hence the need for these boosters. NO WiFi is secure no matter what security/system/password you use. There are to many well know “backdoors” into any no hard wired service. Also with FIOS you don’t get all channels. I have been a longtime user of ATT and found that their signal is much stronger. There are no dead zones with their stronger signal. Verizon’s signal is much weaker and doesn’t penetrate many older brick and/or masonry buildings. Must of the UWS buildings are like this. Even in newer construction their signal will not penetrate into inner rooms.
      By the way doesn’t anyone remember all the UWS hub bob just a short time ago about the radiation concerns of our self appointed community activists from the proliferation of cell towers on buildings?

      • Ted says:

        FIOS is not a wireless technology. It is fiber optic based ISP service. It has nothing to do with wireless. Home WiFi is a wireless protocol designated 802.11xx that allows devices to communicate with the router attached to your ISP’s drop in your home.

        Wireless boxes on light poles are not home wifi related though in theory they could be used to provide outdoor wifi, it doesn’t make much sense.

        • robert says:

          Sorry if I used the wrong tech term. By Wifi I mean that the signal coming from a FIOS wired building is picked up and boast by theses towers. For example buildings in the 90’s on WEA that already had this done last year have a little antenna on each floor that is what transmits the data to these new boxes, that then send it in via fiber optics.
          How ever the FIOS folks want to spin it, its still has an portion where your data is tfr thru a wireless system.

          • Old Judge says:

            FiOS is a fiber to the home Internet service. There is no wireless gap. Inside the home, there is a modem/wireless router that broadcasts a wifi signal. The routers that Verizon provides are crap but that has nothing to do with anything in the gray boxes on the street. And cellular service (which is what the boxes are for) has nothing to do with wifi.

          • Jay says:

            Robert, I don’t think you understand the differences between Verizon’s wired and wireless networks. Fios is faster than any wifi network (at the moment). You would never transfer data from a faster network to a slower one and then back to a faster one. There would never be the bandwidth to handle cable tv services this way.

            From whom did you hear this information? I think you need to get some clarification.

            • robert says:

              I can not but in the strongest terms disagree. Large parts of the FIOS, Verizon or hat ever label u want to put on it DO go through a WIFI type system to get to these “grey boxes” then the signal goes down a F/O cable in the lamppost and into the system. This was a very, very quite workaround as must building would not allow them to run the F/O lines into them. Not to mention Verizon balked at the cost of replacing existing wiring in the street with F/O for each building. As to where I’m getting this lets just say FISA work and level it at.

          • Ted says:


            If what you are say were true that would mean that Verizon is provisioning internet service for large buildings via wireless technology that provides enough bandwidth for dozens if not hundreds of simultaneous users at FiOS’ advertised max speed of 500 down and 500 up. That would be a super neat trick but I really don’t think it’s very likely. If you have a link pointing to documentation for this technology I’d love to see it. If not, just understand that you may not be fully clear on what these boxes are for. Not a flame, just don’t want people to be confused. FiOS = Fiber Optic Service.

        • Mike says:

          Agreed Ted about FiOS not being wifi (until it gets into your apartment anyway through their router). I’m wondering if VZN is setting up public wifi hot spots the way that Time Warner has done, for example, allowing their customers to connect to free wifi out in public.

          Would be interesting to see if they are indeed wifi, or cell based…

      • Jay says:

        I don’t know where you got this information, but it’s wrong on multiple fronts.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        agree with ted, who offered a very clear explanation…what Robert said above was hopelessly confused in so many ways, while sounding amazingly confident.

        I guess there is a lesson in that.

        • Mark says:

          The lesson that I take away is that the WSR Comments are not a reliable source of information.

        • robert says:

          I can not but in the strongest terms disagree. Large parts of the FIOS, Verizon or hat ever label u want to put on it DO go through a WIFI type system to get to these “grey boxes” then the signal goes down a F/O cable in the lamppost and into the system. This was a very, very quite workaround as must building would not allow them to run the F/O lines into them. Not to mention Verizon balked at the cost of replacing existing wiring in the street with F/O for each building. As to where I’m getting this lets just say FISA work and leave it at that

          • Jay says:

            “As to where I’m getting this lets just say FISA work and leave it at that”

            You know usually people with access to classified information are better at keeping secrets. Keep that tin foil hat snug, ok?

            • robert says:

              Lets just add there is no tin foil here
              There are a lot of us in in the “security industrial complex” long before the patriot act & FISA allowed us MUCH more access to what tech co actual do vs what they publicly say and/or do.
              For example DOJ asks Verizon to “voluntarily” look at xyz data, Verizon and many others comply 99.99999999999% of the time. No subpoena, no paper trail etc
              Try thinking about what it, the multiple it ten times as to that ALL data etc is captured

    3. Sarah Marmorstein says:

      I would like to know if this spreads radiation to the air that we breathe in every day

      • ScooterStan says:

        WHAT, in heaven’s name (to use a cliché) does either WiFi or FiOS have to do with radiation?

        “Radiation” implies something resulting from nuclear stuff (sorry…always got a C- in science class).

        As many a Verizon FiOS customer knows (especially those whose digital TV screens “freeze” at the worst possible moment) Verizon is nowhere near nuclear power…it’s more like steam-power…19th Century steam-power.

        • David S says:

          Well…no. Any kind of wireless signal, from AM radio to cellular telephony to WiFi is electromagnetic radiation at one frequency or another.

    4. Chris says:

      using a Verizon phone at west 63rd street is horrible. If the call does not drop the quality is poor at best. Hope they put these on this block.

    5. Turnoffthecopper says:

      These antennas will be added to, than will provide 5g service, which will be your wireless fios for those who are not wired. It will be replace copper landlines as well.
      Work done by non union labor.

      • Old Judge says:

        Verizon has been trying to get rid of copper and replace it with cellular and/or fiber (FiOS) connections to home customers. FiOS is excellent but costly to install; Cellular is relatively inexpensive for Verizon but a terrible deal for customers (who have to pay for calls that they receive as well as those they make) who have data limits and surcharges.

        Turnoffthecopper is correct that VZW is using non-union workers to install and maintain their cellular service. Copper is maintained by union workers. Do the math.

      • clarence says:

        I like the idea that we might get FIOS someday. Sorry to hear that they are inviting the same issues that Spectrum has.

    6. clarence says:

      FIOS Vs. Wireless Vs. Verizon

      BTW, when is Verizon finally going to offer FIOS for all? They aren’t angels but tired of Spectrum’s lying on speed and their union busting. Besides, I hear FIOS is better but I live AND manage a small building. Verizon is completely uncommunicative after we gave permission to them ten months ago.

    7. nycityny says:

      All this talk about wireless FIOS vs wireless cell service is confusing. I’m a FIOS customer and always thought of it as Fiber directly to my apartment, not via a wireless transmission. I certainly have a fiber wire that reaches my bedroom.

      So I did some Googling and found an article that discusses what robert has been saying. Scroll down to the section that says “Verizon’s wireless future” and it talks about providing FIOS without wiring the home. But is this already being done on the UWS of Manhattan? If so it indicates that customers should be getting it for free as a trial. Perhaps these new boxes are meant for that free trial.

      • robert says:

        Its fiber from inside your apt to the hallway outside of it. They recently wired the uWS buildings for it so you should be able to follow it in your hallway. The wiring will lead to a small pinkish/tan box that is about the size of a note card. That has the WIFI transmitter that send out your “stuff” over the air, which is picked up on the street by these new repeaters they then send it on by fiber. Even if you don’t see the small box, must building they were mounted right outside your front door, follow the wire into its end point. It way go into a service and/or fire stairwell. But the box will be there

    8. Vince says:

      Yes, these all emit microwave radiation at high level GHz and likely quite harmful to our human biology. If you believe that microwave is safe then remain asleep, since what is more important to you is to not experience a bad FIOS or cell phone connection. Let them install these boxes, OBEY!! Most people are unaware and they want to make sure you stay that way.

    9. Kylee the Cattledog says:

      Wow, $1.6 million a month in fee revenue to rent 4000 poles. I’m in the wrong business.

    10. FixerUpper says:

      Well, if they painted them like a rainbow they would be gay boxes and totally not boring. Maybe add some sweet shiplap.

    11. Karen boyle says:

      Dead Zone: 73rd Street West approaching Riverside Drive, Riverside Drive between 73rd and 74th and 74th between Riverside and West End. Grass area in Riverside Park south of 72nd street dog run.

    12. laura says:

      City going to interfere ours cellphone