If you have been to New York recently, you may have seen LinkNYC kiosks along the street, where traditionally phone booths may have been. These kiosks were first installed in January, and offered USB charging, free Wi-Fi, free calls, and free web browsing. They have been especially popular among tourists, who can easily look up potential destinations and find their ways.
Well, LinkNYC is owned by Intersection, a subsidiary of Sidewalk Labs, which is itself a subsidiary of Alphabet (which owns Google). Phew. Anyway, Intersection is partnering with telecom company BT and advertising company Primesight to launch similar kiosks in London, called LinkUK.
LinkUK kiosks will function like LinkNYC kiosks, offering free calls, mobile device charging, and access to maps and directions. They will also offer free Wi-Fi, at a blazing speed of 1 Gbps, the fastest free public Wi-Fi available. However, it does not appear the LinkUK kiosks will offer free web browsing on built-in tablets. Earlier this year, New York had to shut down the web browsing feature, because LinkNYC kiosks were used to view pornography and “hogged” by homeless people.
Each LinkUK kiosk will have two 55″ display, which can display public announcements and ads. The cost of building and maintaining these kiosks will be paid by advertising revenue. BT says that ~100 LinkUK kiosks will be installed in the London Borough of Camden, the first of which will become available in 2017. Over the next few years, they will also be installing 750 LinkUK kiosks across central London and in other major cities in the UK. Many of these kiosks, which take up less space on the street, will replace existing BT phone boxes.
So does this mean the iconic red phone boxes along the streets of UK will be replaced? Well, not exactly. There are over 46,000 phone boxes in the UK, only about 17% of them are iconic red phone boxes. In the London area alone, there are almost 7,000 phone boxes, with just ~600 of them being the iconic red ones. Many of the red phone boxes are designated as grade II listed buildings, so BT will likely preserve them. However, other phone booths are getting replaced or repurposed, and BT says that LinkUK is the first step.