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Phone box of the future? Free 1Gbps WiFi, calls and charging with BT LinkUK

Tuesday, 14 March, 2017

BT is rolling out what it calls the fastest available public WiFi in the country by installing 100 LinkUK boxes in the London borough of Southwark.

Each of the LinkUK kiosks will be built on high streets in the capital, allowing hundreds of users within range able to access free WiFi up to 1Gbps.

Other free services include UK landline and mobile phone calls, rapid mobile phone and device charging, online maps, directions and local information.

Happily, it all comes at no expense to the taxpayer, as each kiosk is paid for by advertising on the two 55-inch screens.

It’s a partnership between BT, advertising firm Primesight, and Intersection, the Google-backed American company who first trialled these machines in New York.

Oddly enough the free WiFi kiosks are no stranger to controversy. The New York Times reported in 2016 how public officials had been “overwhelmed with complaints” after they became a focal point for ‘loiterers’ and the homeless, with people gathering around them for hours at a time and using the ultrafast internet connection to watch porn on the street.

Southwark joins Camden as one of the first areas in the UK where the new service will be rolled out.
London is only the second city in the world after New York to get the LinkUK kiosks.

Until around 10 years ago, every high street, market town and village would have had a BT payphone box. But with the advent of mobile phones and the expectation of getting WiFi on the move, these once proud devices fell to vandalism and disrepair.

The figures back this up: BT say calls from their own payphones halved in the last three years.

These LinkUK kiosks are considered a 21st century upgrade for the humble phone box.

But fear not, history-lovers: BT says it has no plans to remove the remaining K1 red telephone boxes, many of which are Grade-II listed to prevent them from being altered or knocked down.

Ellie Gummer, director of Sharing Economy UK, says the rollout is “another powerful endorsement of the UK as a global technology leader”.

Intersection have installed over 600 of these devices on the streets of New York since January 2016 and claim more than a million registered users have connected to its ultrafast WiFi.

Councillor Peter John, OBE, leader of Southwark Council, said: “Southwark is one of the key business and cultural hubs in London and home to some of Britain’s most loved tourist attractions.

“The increased connectivity and access to local services Links will bring to Southwark will undoubtedly benefit residents, visitors and businesses alike and supports our ambition to become a digital council.”

Other UK cities including Manchester and Birmingham are being considered for the next stage of the rollout.

Around 750 kiosks are being devised for 2017.

Nick Hale, the Managing Director of BT Wholesale and Ventures, said: “This is the phone box of the future.

“We’re evolving to make it relevant to people in the 21st century by offering them ultrafast Wi-Fi, free phone calls, rapid mobile charging, a range of digital and information services and all for free.”

Tom Rodgers author picture


Tom is a tech journalist and former Editor at BroadbandDeals.co.uk.

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