Goodbye Phone Boxes, Hello Wifi Kiosk: Hands-On With BT InLink

By James O Malley on at

What do you do when you own the thousands of spots that used to hold payphones now that nobody needs a phone box to make a call?

The answer, is to turn that valuable street furniture into advertising space. It’s a clever idea, as the company already owns thousands of valuable spots on high streets all around the country - which makes them ripe for monetising.

The only question then, is what can BT do to make it look like it just doesn’t want to shove advertising down our throats?

Enter “InLink”, a new design of roadside kiosk. The first one launched today on Camden High Street in London, so we went down to take a look.

“Hello Camden” says the large display screen, which today was cycling between the weather, the Tube status board and a general hello sign. This is where the advertising will appear. (We’re guessing it wasn’t today, because it launch day and the kiosk was swarming with BT’s PR people.)

One of the big selling points is that the kiosks promise gigabit wifi - which could be an absolute godsend for tourists or people on stingy data plans. I logged on to check the speed. mercifully the sign-up process doesn’t use BT Wifi, and is just a one button “connect”, with a prompt for an email address (you can make one up). It appears that the kiosk will remember your phone by its MAC address - so it will hopefully mean that if you pass another, your phone will silently connect, without needing to sign in from scratch each time.

Speed-wise, I had low expectations. So often do my devices pick up a BT Openzone hotspot, only to discover a weak or seemingly broken connection - but the InLink kiosk managed to pull down data 263Mbps to my phone - and upload at 385Mbps. This, then, is the public wifi you want to do your Facebook Live from.

The kiosk itself was dominated by an Android tablet in portrait mode - locked down with BT’s software. Though as you can see above, beneath the screen is an actual old phonebox style keypad, as well as a button to dial 999. Yes - you can actually still use this to make calls if you want to, for some reason. If you want some privacy, and you don’t want to recipient's voice blasting out across Camden, you can plug in some 3.5mm headphones (sorry, iPhone users).

Interestingly, though the spot used to be home to a phone box, it appears that the call itself was being made over IP. Awkwardly for Android though, when I tried making a call, the app crashed - clearly some bugs need to be worked out. I didn’t test out the 999 button for obvious reasons.

The touchscreen display itself was nice and responsive, like a tablet. (In fact, I’m pretty sure it was just some sort of Samsung tablet strapped inside a metal frame). On the plus side this means it is nice to use on Day 1 - though I wonder if it will be robust enough to cope with Camden’s revellers in the long term.

The “Maps” button you can see on the interface simply loads up Google Maps. And “Camden Services” loads up the council website.

Finally underneath the kiosk are a couple of USB sockets which you can use to charge your phone - if you don’t mind awkwardly standing beside it for an hour. This made me wonder a couple of things: Shouldn’t it make us a bit nervous to plug our phones into mysterious USB sockets? And isn’t it inevitable that if these become widespread, some nefarious criminal types will start adding USB intercept devices on to these machines to steal our data - like how you get criminals strapping illicit card reading technology on to cash points?

And that’s the InLink. Here’s hoping that this quality of wifi starts to become the new standard in public.


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