Police Postpone Installation of BT's 5G Internet Kiosks Over Drug Links

By Kim Snaith on at

BT has been planning to replace old-fashioned payphone boxes with fancy new 5G internet phone kiosks, but the roll-out has been stalled by the police as they've found the devices are being used by drug users and dealers.

Around 200 of the kiosks, known as 'InLink', have already been installed in 20 cities across the UK, and BT has been looking for permits to install 1,000 in total. The kiosks have been designed allow touch-screen access to charity services to people in need, free calls, wireless internet and phone charging. They also have built-in 5G masts that enable the next-generation mobile signal to operate. But it seems their easy access has led to them being used in more nefarious matters.

In London's Tower Hamlets borough, the local police has gathered evidence to show drug users have been using InLink kiosks to make calls to drug dealers. The booths allow for 30-second phone calls to any number to be made free of charge – just enough time for someone to place their order with a dealer. According to a Tower Hamlets planning officer, CCTV had captured 80 people making calls on the InLink kiosk in the space of a day – and 90 per cent of those calls had been to buy drugs. BT has worked with officials and placed restrictions on calls to combat the problem, but police don't feel like it has helped the situation.

Other cities are following suit in restricting InLink usage and placement, with Bristol City Council using Tower Hamlets' evidence as reason to block 20 out of 25 InLink applications. In the last two months, the city of Liverpool and another seven London boroughts have barred BT's applications to replace old phone boxes with InLink.

However, not every area shares the same concerns. Officials from Camden actually cite the InLink kiosks as a positive to the borough. The secretary of Camden Safer Neighbourhood Board stated that since old phone boxes were always used to call drug dealers, the open-air intercom system of InLink actually worked more as a deterrent. And since old boxes are getting removed as InLink kiosks are added, it's actually beneficial.

BT is working with Tower Hamlets and other local councils and their police in order to find a solution. It still intends to fit all the kiosks before 2020, when 5G is launched nationwide in the UK. [E&T]