BT turns phone boxes into base stations

Money-spinning ideas from the beleaguered telco include renting out phone boxes to mobile network carriers
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

BT has come up with some novel ways of making money as it faces mounting pressure to dissolve some of its huge debt -- renting out its telephone boxes and possibly selling off its famous BT vans.

The first idea involves turning telephone boxes into mini base stations to allow mobile firms to fill in the gaps in their network coverage. The short-range base stations will be low powered and the transmitters are intended to give better quality calls in urban areas. Initially just over a thousand locations are being offered, increasing to 5,000 during the next two years. BT claims several mobile firms have expressed interest in the sites.

Such base stations -- called microcells -- are important to mobile networks and mobile firms have been placing them in shop and street signs for some time.

BT won't say how much extra money it will make from the scheme but it is not, the telco admits, going to make a big dent in the telco's debt. "It isn't designed to knock billions off the debt," said a spokesman. It will help safeguard BT's 130,000 public payphones though. "It is somewhat ironic as payphones have been hit in revenue terms by the huge takeup of mobile phones."

There has been criticism in the past that BT has not maintained its commitments to the public phone network. BT denies this but admits that its rent-a-phonebox service is unlikely to make much difference to how fast it rolls out new boxes. "We have been increasing the number of payphones but at a slower rate. This announcement isn't going to affect that," the spokesman said.

There has been speculation that BT could be on the verge of selling off its fleet of 58,000 vans as another way of cutting its debt. The Financial Times estimates the sell-off could earn the telco up to £1bn. BT describes the idea as "pure speculation".

"It is something that could happen but we haven't made any announcement and the money mentioned is an estimation," said a spokesman.

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