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New York's free gigabit WiFi kiosks are coming to the UK

BT will start replacing hundreds of London payphones with the next-gen monoliths next year.

BT celebrated the 80th birthday of London's iconic red phone boxes earlier this month, and while some of these are being updated for the digital age, there are still countless antiquated payphones across the country needing a new lease of life. Today, BT has announced plans to rip out hundreds of these and replace them with next-gen kiosks that'll offer free gigabit WiFi, free UK calls, charging facilities and access to maps, directions and info on local services via an embedded Android tablet.

If the rejuvenation project sounds a little familiar, that's because BT's teamed up with Intersection to make this happen -- the same subsidiary of Google's Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs that's behind the Links kiosks in New York City. The monoliths themselves are identical, serving as up to 1 Gbps WiFi hotspots, providing free calls (headphones are recommended if you don't want to broadcast your conversation through the booth's loudspeaker), hosting two USB ports for emergency device charging and offering all kinds of useful information via the built-in tablet.

All of this will be paid for by advertising revenue, with two large displays on either side of the kiosks showing promotional material alongside public service announcements. Beyond what you can see, the pillars will also host environmental sensors for recording temperature, air and noise pollution, as well as traffic conditions and other metrics suitable for future big data/smart city applications.

The London Borough of Camden will be the first testbed for the payphone replacements, with 100 expected to be installed starting next year. "At least" 750 kiosks are planned in central London alone, with rollouts in other major UK cities over the next couple of years also on the agenda. Unsurprisingly, there's no mention of free internet browsing on the embedded tablets, which had to be switched off in New York after less fortunate residents of the city began monopolizing them, sometimes for, erm... self-gratification.

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