Hundreds of phone booths in London will disappear next year, and be replaced with sidewalk kiosks that offer Wi-Fi, free phone calls, and screens with maps and directions.
The plan, which is modeled on an $800 million project currently underway in New York City, will be carried out by U.K. telecom giant BT
and Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of the Google
parent holding company known as Alphabet.
The arrival of the Internet Kiosks, which will be called LinkUK, come as phone booths become obsolete in the age of mobile devices, and cities look for new services to offer in their place.
“Hundreds of users within range of a Link will be able to access free ultrafast Wi-Fi on the move, with speeds of up to 1Gbps—the fastest free public Wi-Fi service available” said LinkUK in a press release on Tuesday morning.
If you want to get an idea of how exactly the kiosks work, check out this recent Fortune video, which shows them in action:
The project will not involve the removal of London’s iconic red phone booths, according to a BT spokesperson, who added there are 8,000 of the traditional booths across the UK, and many of them are being designated as heritage properties.
London will be the second city to experiment with what the release describe as the “sleek, ultramodern” Internet kiosks. In New York, where the first ones popped up in February of this year, the terminals have so far been met with a mixed reception.
According to New York City officials, the terminals have been a hit with the public, attracting 671,000 Wi-Fi users, 34 million Wi-Fi sessions, and tens of thousands of free phone calls made every week. The service has proven especially popular with messengers and tourists, and the city continues to add 15 to 25 new terminals a week.
But there has been controversy over homeless people monopolizing the kiosks—or using them to watch pornography. Such concerns led New York to remove the web browsing function in September.
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Meanwhile, privacy advocates have warned that Google could use them as tracking devices to serve targeted advertising, a concern dismissed by New York officials.
The Tuesday announcement from London did not disclose the financial aspects of the arrangement, but did say BT and Sidewalk Labs are working with PrimeSite, an outdoor advertising company.
In the case of New York, the consortium running the kiosks has guaranteed to pay the city a minimum of $500 million through 2026 — a considerable increase over what the city has been earning from its phone booths.
The arrival of the kiosks represents part of Sidewalk Labs’ larger vision for cities, will involves sensors and big data technology transform urban land use and transportation.
This story was updated on 10/25 with details about the impact of the project on the UK’s red phone booths.