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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September, 2003, 07:45 GMT 08:45 UK
Wi-fi future for UK's phone boxes
Man using wi-fi laptop
Wi-fi technology lets you surf the net anywhere
BT is reviving its network of ailing public phone boxes by breathing some wi-fi life into them.

Nearly 100 of them in the UK's big towns and cities will become wireless broadband access points, or wi-fi hotspots, by the end of the week.

They will be on the street near hotels, cafes or restaurants where people need fast net access through laptops or handheld computers.

By Christmas, 200 of BT's 108,000 phone boxes will have wi-fi in them.

Old favourite

Even some of the familiar old red telephone boxes could be getting the wi-fi upgrade by the end of the year.

Public phone use has dropped considerably with the rise of mobile phone ownership, even though they are still vital in certain areas.

Many remain unused or are vandalised, so wi-fi could prove a attractive new use.

Wi-fi allows people to connect to the net at broadband speeds without cables, as long as they have the equipment and a wi-fi account.

Old fashioned red telephone boxes
London: 14
S England: 41
N England: 17
Midlands: 8
Scotland: 20
Cardiff: 5
Source: BT Openzone
"The deal to put Openzone in some of BT's vast network of payphones is evidence that we are serious in our aim to take wireless broadband to every street in Britain," said Dave Hughes, chief executive of BT Wireless Broadband.

BT aims to have a total of 4,000 public access points for its Openzone wi-fi network around the country by summer 2004.

Cafe conflict?

Ian Fogg, analyst at Jupiter Research said putting wi-fi in phone boxes was generally good news, but warned it could be disruptive for some businesses.

"Lots of hotspot developments in Europe been about getting people into premises," he told BBC News Online.

"But if you are a cafe and you already set up your hotspot with the intention that people come in, buy a coffee and access the internet, there could be a conflict there."

A wi-fi hotspot in a public phone box on the street could mean people will stop using the cafe's own one, he says.

However, the problem for most people who want to use wi-fi is knowing exactly where the hotspots are before they think about leaving their cables behind.

"So what would make big difference is if BT could say where there is a public payphone, there is wi-fi," added Mr Fogg.

The wi-fi phone boxes will be identified by an Openzone logo.

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