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October 01, 2014

Who Uses a Phone Booth Anymore? Telstra Plans To

It would not be out of line, many would note, to suggest that the phone booth as we once knew it is dead, slain by the ubiquity of the cell phone and similar mobile devices. But what to do with all those leftover booths, in some cases just sitting there, a target for vandals or potentially worse? Telstra, according to reports, has some plans for those booths, and those users who like to have a Wi-Fi signal on hand regardless of location should be particularly happy about said plans.

That's right; reports suggest that Telstra is poised to turn its various phone booths into Wi-Fi hotspots in a bid to cover public spaces completely with a ready means to get Internet access. The project is reportedly set to cost $100 million, and trial versions of the project are said to be ready to go up in November. Those willing to share bandwidth will get free access to any hotspot, though the data that is used will be deducted from a home use allowance. Meanwhile, those who don't share, or who aren't Telstra members, will still be able to get in on the action but for a fee that is as yet undisclosed.

Around 100 such hotspots are set to come online as part of a trial basis system in the next few weeks, and by the time the project reaches completion, reports suggest that as many as two million such hotspots will go into operation.  Access to the trial sites, meanwhile, will reportedly be free, but there's no word on how long a site will stay on a trial basis.

As it turns out, reports suggest, phone booths make excellent Wi-Fi hotspots—at least, as far as Telstra goes—as phone booths are located mainly in busy areas, and phone booths are also often connected to high-speed fiber systems that would allow fairly large numbers of users to connect to the system at the same time. Interestingly, reports suggest that the phone booths would actually still be usable as phones even after the conversion process was complete. Gordon Ballentine—who serves as Telstra's group executive of retail—noted that, while the use in some areas was on the decline, Telstra “still value(s) the payphone infrastructure and its role in the community.”

While this by itself is a fairly big project, it serves one valuable point: specifically, taking some of the burden off Telstra's 4G mobile network. The more users can get Wi-Fi access to more robust connection points, the fewer users will have to be on the mobile network, which by its very nature can accommodate less traffic than fiber networks can. That's a great move on Telstra's part, and will likely serve as a great way to expand the network of mobile users without specifically having to expand the mobile network. It can make Telstra seem more reliable overall, and also give the company a great way to get a better public perception without having to really expand. While the project will be a substantial cost, its value in taking stress off the mobile network should be substantial in response.

Only time will tell just how well the Telstra plan to convert phone booths to mobile Wi-Fi points will work out, but it's a safe bet that this will be a project quite well received on several fronts. With more connectivity options available, this should go quite some way in making things easier for users, and making Telstra a bit of a hero to said users.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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