BT to replace London pay phones with kiosks delivering ad-supported Wi-Fi, local information, free calls and sensors that can power IoT smart city services
BT is to replace hundreds of phone boxes across London and replace them with ‘Links’ – modern kiosks that offer free, ad-supported phone calls, 1Gbps Wi-Fi, mobile charging and sensors that can support smart city applications.
LinkUK is a partnership between BT, urban innovation firm Intersection and outdoor advertising agency PrimeSight and is modelled on a similar project called LinkNYC in New York City.
The first kiosks will start to appear on the capital’s streets in early 2017, offering the fastest free public Wi-Fi service available. Each Link can support hundreds of users and also offers free mobile and landline calls to UK numbers.
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Evolution of the payphone
BT says the Links are smaller than existing units, many of which are in need of some attention, and are built to withstand vandalism and extreme weather. No classic red phoneboxes will be replaced, but up to 750 in central London will be.
The company has suggested that not all payphones eliminated from the capital will be replaced, stating that the new kiosks will be installed “in smaller numbers” than their predecessors, reducing street clutter.
LinkUK and BT will work with local communities and councils to determine the best location for each terminal and it is stressed that this comes at no expense to the taxpayer as all services will be funded by advertising across a nationwide network of 17,500 payphones. A national rollout of Links could soon follow.
“We’re evolving the phone box to make it relevant in the 21st century by offering people ultrafast Wi-Fi and a range of digital and information services entirely for free,” declared Gerry McQuade, CEO of BT Wholesale and Ventures.
“London is one of the greatest cities in the world and it’s entirely fitting that it becomes the first UK city to benefit from the Links. But we will be rolling out many more Links to the other great cities across the UK over the coming months as we look to transform the look and functionality of our public payphones.”
Each Link will be equipped with sensors that could monitor air and noise pollution, temperature, traffic and other urban metrics, allowing organisations and local councils to build smart city applications based on the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Mayor of London’s office has welcomed the move, claiming it will help the capital achieve its ambition of becoming a tech leader and improving access to connectivity for residnts.
“Expanding London’s digital infrastructure is a priority for the Mayor, and LinkUK can play a big part in improving connectivity for Londoners and visitors to our city, while reducing street clutter by upgrading and reducing the number of phone boxes,” said Rajesh Agrawal, London’s Deputy Mayor for Business.
“I look forward to working with BT, Intersection and Primesight to see how we can roll LinkUK across the capital, and to explore its future potential.”
The classic ‘K6’ red phone box recently celebrated its 80th birthday . It was provided to every town or village in the land, providing they had a post office. Indeed, 8,000 K6 were installed in 1936 alone, and by the end of production in 1968 there were nearly 70,000 in this country.
There are currently 46,000 public phone boxes in the UK, of which 8,000 are classic red. In London there are 6,783 phone boxes and 602 red ones. In recent years, BT has encouraged local residents to “adopt” their unused phone box for £1 with many turned into art galleries, libraries and information centres.