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Phone boxes converted into national WiFi network

What do you do with old public phone boxes hardly anyone uses any more? In New Zealand they are being converted into a national network of WiFi hotspots.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

Telecom New Zealand is launching a nationwide WiFi service piggybacking on its legacy network of pay-phone booths.

700 hotspots will be live by 7 October with a target of 2000 by the middle of 2014 – and Telecom New Zealand customers on monthly plans and on NZ$19 and NZ$29 prepaid packs will get 1GB a day of data free.

Other users can access the WiFi network for NZ$9.95 a month and Telecom is working on a range of other pricing plans.

Telecom Retail chief executive Chris Quin said that the conversions will help to make customers’ mobile data go further and make broadband access more pervasive.

It will also clearly make Telecom customers more sticky and possibly entice some to switch from competitors. 

“We want to encourage our customers to use as much data as possible, because we know how the smartphone applications and services they’re using are at the very centre of the way people now live, work and play,” Quin said. 

Verizon trialled a similar scheme in New York as early as 2003, but the service was replaced by EVDO in 2006. In 2012, New York City announced wireless would be provided in 12,000 phone booths.

Others have been less practical, but perhaps more creative, converting old phone booths into libraries, toilets, showers and even smoking booths.

In many other cities phone booths have become too rare to provide a foundation for a WiFi service.

The New Zealand WiFi venture has been developed by Telecom Digital Ventures, an incubator-style business unit designed to develop innovative business opportunities.

Telecom was structurally separated from its network business two years ago to enhance retail competition, but retained ownership of the phone booth network.

Users have to register and 175,000 had already done so during a trial period, said Digital Ventures’ Ed Hyde. A large proportion of those who used the WiFi network during the trial were not Telecom mobile customers, he said.

The network is spread throughout the country, with concentrations of hotspots in the main population centres of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch and in holiday spots.

Users need to register a device and they will then automatically connect to a hotspot whenever they are within range if WiFi is  turned on.

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