BT to replace phone boxes on UK high streets with 1Gbps digital hubs

28 Jun 2017

One of the new InLink digital hubs in London. Image: BT

New digital units called InLinks will rejuvenate the streets of London.

Old or abandoned BT phone boxes on high streets across the UK are to be replaced by new digital hubs that will provide free Wi-Fi as well as other services.

The first of these new InLink units, which will replace some of BT’s existing payphones in the capital, have appeared on Camden High Street today (28 June) in London.

‘This is the phone box of the future’

The kiosks are the result of a new partnership between BT; Intersection, the company behind LinkNYC; and Primesight, a leading UK outdoor advertising company.

Step into the future

The InLinkUK from BT service will be rolled out to other high streets in London and major cities throughout the country this year.

It will provide free internet access, free calls and useful location-specific information to users within range of the next-generation phone boxes.

BT said that all InLink services are free of charge to users and taxpayers as the project is funded by advertising revenue generated by the InLinks’ digital displays.

“This is the phone box of the future,” said Gerry McQuade, CEO of BT wholesale and ventures.

“InLinkUK from BT brings the payphone up to date, and gives people the services they need and use every day in the 21st century – and the bonus is, it’s all for free.

“But, as well as the free services – ultra-fast Wi-Fi, phone calls, rapid mobile charging and local information – councils and community organisations will be able to use the screens to provide up-to-the-minute news and information to local residents.

“And, just as the phone box has evolved, the new InLinks could evolve to use the internet of things, with connected sensors to monitor and help us understand and improve our environment,” McQuade said.

BT to replace phone boxes on UK high streets with 1Gbps digital hubs

A new InLink 1Gbps hub capable of free Wi-Fi, calls and information services being installed in London. Image: BT

The move by BT follows the launch of LinkNYC in New York in January 2016, which saw old phone boxes – or locations where phone boxes had been removed – converted to inLinks.

“As a global hub for business, technology and culture, London is the perfect environment for digital innovation,” said Ari Buchalter, CEO of Intersection.

“As we’ve seen in New York City with LinkNYC, providing free, high-speed Wi-Fi access, real-time information, engaging content, and digital services on city streets can valuably enrich people’s experiences of a city on their daily journeys between home, work, shopping and entertainment.

Hundreds of users within range of an InLink will be able to access free Wi-Fi on the move, with speeds of up to 1Gbps.

Other services available from the InLinks include: free UK landline and mobile phone calls; mobile device charging; access to maps, directions and local services; and a new BT Phone Book app, enabling users to search for businesses by type and name, as well as people by name. The digital displays will feature real-time information, such as tube service updates, weather forecasts and community messaging.

Naren Patel, CEO of Primesight, added: “As London continues to develop as a smart city, the launch of the InLinks will provide a real value exchange between consumers and brands.

“Consumers will see relevant content from brands on the screens and use the free services provided, and, in turn, brands will benefit from being associated with a product that will provide real benefits to the people in the communities. It’s a fast, smart, ad-funded product that is set to benefit consumers and advertisers alike.”

No sex please, we’re British!

One thing worth mentioning is the lessons learned from the roll-out of InLink boxes in New York.

Browsers on the InLink hubs in the Big Apple had to be disabled after people would linger for hours, sometimes brazenly watching pornography on the streets, according to the The New York Times.

It is understood that the tablet screens on InLink boxes in the UK won’t have browsers.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years