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Derby Mayor Hates BT’s Plan to Build Ultrafast WiFi Street Hubs

Monday, September 6th, 2021 (9:07 am) - Score 2,592
BT Street Hub 2.0 kiosk

The Mayor of Derby City, Councillor Robin Wood, has criticised a planning application by BT to deploy the next generation of their smart UK Street Hub WiFi kiosks (formerly InLinkUK). According to the Mayor, the only people using phone boxes today were “either drug dealers or prostitutes,” although kiosks aren’t quite the same thing.

Just to recap. The Street Hubs are being used to replace some ageing phone boxes in busy urban areas. Each kiosk typically offers free ultrafast Wi-Fi, USB device charging, council information / services, environmental monitoring, free UK calls, the ability to boost 4G and 5G mobile signals via the inclusion of small cells and a large HD display on the side for advertising (this helps to fund the units).

On the surface this sounds great, but not everybody is convinced. A number of members on Derby City Council’s Conservation Area Committee, including Mayor Robin Wood, have openly voiced opposition to the idea (Derby Telegraph). The mayor questioned why such things were needed as people already carry mobile phones and, he added, the only people using phone boxes today were “either drug dealers or prostitutes“.

BT has previously informed ISPreview.co.uk that their ambition is to roll out more than 200 Street Hub 2.0 units to new sites across the UK by around the middle of 2022, with the City of Derby (Derbyshire, England) also being set to benefit.

Robin Wood, The Mayor of Derby City, said:

“I hate them, I think we shouldn’t have them in any conservation area. If somebody wanted to put up an advertising hoarding, which is essentially what these are, we would say no.

I really cannot see that we need these or there is any necessity for them. The only people that use phone boxes are either drug dealers or prostitutes.

I think we ought to make a firm policy that we do not allow these in conservation areas. Sorry that’s a bit strong but I don’t like them at all.”

Other committee members alleged that the kiosks might affect the setting of listed buildings, where they are in a Conservation Area, and echoed the mayor’s concerns about advertising. But BT’s planning application states that their hubs “are of a high quality, accessible design that would be a significant improvement over the existing payphones in the council’s borough. As such the council should support the proposal in the interest of the significant public benefits,” which they added would “outweigh any harm caused when weighing up all material planning considerations.”

As for the remarks about “drug dealers and prostitutes,” back in 2019 Tower Hamlets (London) became the first council in the country to temporarily stop calls from 18 of BT’s older InLinkUK kiosks in the borough after Police claimed that 20,000 calls had been made to known drug dealers in just four months. In 2020 similar claims were made against the units in Swansea (Wales) by the South Wales drugs support agency, Barod.

At the time Barod’s Service Manager, Jamie Harries, said: “We are aware that the kiosks are being used for this and other things, which is no different to the old telephone kiosks.” All of this might help to explain why the Mayor of Derby is concerned about BT’s kiosks being built.

On the other hand, it’s worth noting that BT did take action over this, not least by introducing a new software algorithm to automatically detected and block “anti-social” calls, which also harnessed some insight from the police to help identify suspicious patterns and phone numbers.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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25 Responses
  1. ianh says:

    I’m going to have side with the mayor on this one. They are pointless and crap digital advertising boards by the back door.

    If you need free wifi you can just stand outside most stores or go into a local shopping center.

    1. Oliver says:

      Absolutely, these things can gtfo.

    2. James says:


      If they’re going to boost 4G/5G via the inclusion of small cells, then surely they’re worth having? That would reduce the need for ‘Dodgy WiFi’ from a random store/pub/cafe where you either need to register or throughput is non-existent.

      As long as it isn’t littered with BT adverts, I don’t see what the issue is?

    3. An says:

      Mark, I think “this helps to fund the units” is incredibly generous.

      The advertising allows BT to make a *profit* from the units, even after providing free WiFi and calls (which realistically must cost them very little).

      Remember these advertising boards need backhaul anyway so they are just adding a phone and WiFi AP so that they can A) claim this provides massive social benefits and therefore should get planning for a advertising display which they pay the council nothing for.
      B) offload traffic from 4g and C) PR benefits.

    4. An says:

      James, small cells (with integrated WiFi if needed) can and do just go on lamp posts?

      These are just advertising displays in disguise. If BT actually cared about doing free calls then a actually payphone would be much cheaper (except don’t provide the advertising revenue)

    5. Phil says:

      I agree as well, just electronic digital bill boards, of course they’d have an Internet connection anyway as it means they can be updated to different “ads” as and when and changed throughout the day to target who is likely about at that time. They don’t look nice, they have little functional value to anyone except criminals it seems, and as they are within reach just get vandalised or covered in graffiti.

  2. Sam P says:

    Robin Wood, what a living legend!

    1. Daniel P says:

      I’d hardly call a city mayor a ‘living legend’.

  3. anonymous says:

    Agree with the mayor. Pointless things, just advertising billboards with brightly lit screens. BT are about money not the end customer, always have been, so there is your clear reason why they want them put up.

    They’ll soon look a mess with stickers over them and graffiti. Also look out of place where old building architecture is prevalent.

  4. jet14 says:

    BT should concentrate on building the FTTP quickly instead of this distraction.

  5. David says:

    Nothing against free secure public Wi-Fi, especially in areas like city centres where 4G and 5G signals can be blocked by large buildings. Just mount the access points on existing buildings or street lighting columns so they’re not obtrusive, not big phone booths.

  6. Daniel P says:

    Of course he would be a Conservative wouldn’t he backwards looking as always.

    1. Sam P says:

      Don’t be a bigot. You judge others on their political beliefs? What a sad life you must lead.

    2. Daniel P says:

      Well seeing as you call him a ‘living legend’ it’s pretty obvious you’re Conservative too.

  7. Christopher Havard says:

    I live in Swansea, and while the problems associated with these hubs are news to me (but seem blindingly obvious once pointed out), I think they are overall a good thing.

    Are they a bit of an eyesore; yes. Are they a cynical advertising cash stream disguised as a public service; also yes. But, do they provide said public service; yes they do.

    I have a teenage daughter, and she often travels into the city centre. She has used these hubs many times to contact me, and/or charge her mobile phone for free.

    They definitely aren’t perfect, but I am glad they’re available to use.

    1. t4n0n says:

      Publically available charging points, unless they’re hardened or in a secure place, should actively be discouraged, in my opinion.

      Any small benefit from allowing people to charge (which could likewise be achieved with a small portable charging pack or taking a charger with you), is outweighed by the substantial potential dangers of connecting an unknown, untrusted device to your mobile.

      Even with hardening (i.e removing the data lines of the usb connection), the whole affair would be largely pointless as you’d be reduced to charging at 5V@2A or less, meaning that you’re talking hours to charge the phone back up again.

  8. Chips and Mushy Peas Please! says:

    Gotta agree with the mayor here. These hubs often end up being advertisement boards for escorts (aka prostitutes) and all kinds of riff raff. As others have said, plenty of places to get free wifi these days.

  9. Jamie Simms says:

    I am going to have to disagree with most people on this thread and say that I find these kiosks very useful.

    There are a number of these installed around Leicester city centre and they all offer 200Mbps both up and download speeds which is a lot faster than any other commercial available services.

    The system is very useful in the main shopping areas as 5G coverage doesn’t penetrate very well due to size of buildings and signal coming from rooftop sites

    1. Daniel P says:

      I totally agree. A lot of public Wi-Fi isn’t fast/reliable enough.

  10. Paul says:

    (2019) “Westminster City Council went to court after telecom companies submitted hundreds of applications for the phone boxes, known as digital kiosks. If all of 300 applications had been approved there would be one phone box every 15 metres along Edgware Road”

    “The money spinner on the InLink actually isn’t the two advertisement screens,but the free high-speed wi-fi network that a series of InLink towers create along a shopping street. Once a user is logged on to that network, he or she becomes one of several thousand small dots moving in and out of shops. Retail strategist are willing to pay quite a lot for such information”

  11. JitteryPinger says:

    Don’t forget the smackheads sir…. 😀

    But, yeah to be fair I don’t see the need personally, they have there places but to be honest it is just another billboard to make some cash on.

    1. Ben says:

      There’s definitely no need. Derby is the sort of town where all the residents have large 4G data allowances and high speed broadband at home. There’s nobody living there for whom a £10 per month SIM might be expensive, nor are there any homeless folks.

  12. Roger_Gooner says:

    The mayor is an idiot. First he said that “Everybody bar none has at least one mobile phone now” and then he said that “the only people that use phone boxes are either drug dealers or prostitutes”. So, somehow these drug dealers or prostitutes are not included in the “Everybody bar none” and must rely on phone boxes. Perhaps he also believes that the county lines drug gangs run their businesses from phone boxes.

  13. Mike says:

    These could be useful for supplying high frequency 5G bands.

  14. anon says:

    It mentions environmental sensors, air pollution is linked to 30k deaths per year, so anything that helps with that must be a good thing.

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