Thursday, October 2, 2014

LONDON | Pay Phone to Solarbox

Yesterday the "solarbox" was launched in London, an innovation of two graduates from the London School of Economics, spurred by a competition held by London Mayor Boris Johnson during the summer.

The obsolescing red phone booths are being repainted green and are being redeployed as free public charging stations for cell phones and other digital devices, paid for by ads.

The first one was installed yesterday in Tottenham Court Road, the main retail electronic shopping district. Another one is scheduled to follow in January.

Despite the spread of cell phones, many cities like New York, London, Moscow have a large number of pay phones on the street. I remember last time I was in Moscow the 20-kopeck coin was very valuable because it was the only way to make a call on the pay phone and there were not enough of these coins in circulation, so people in an emergency would offer to pay several rubles for a 20-kopeck coin.

In New York City, the phone booth before the cell-phone era was a crucial amenity, and also served as a changing room for Clark Kent to transform himself into Superman while Lois Lane wasn't paying attention. The City of New York continues to collect revenue from them because private advertising agencies find them useful as places to put up advertising. New York City has also been experimenting with making phone booths into WiFi hotspots.

London's phone booths are famously red, like their mail boxes ("pillar boxes"). The color goes back to the red St. George's cross, the central red "plus sign" of the Union Jack, which in turn can be traced to the red cross of the crusaders. In Dublin the colors were changed to dark green. The solarboxes are light green.

The LSE students who invented the solarbox were Kirsty Kenney and Harold Craston. They won a £5,000 ($8,000) financing.