Telkom is investigating the feasibility of turning its network of public pay telephones into Wi-Fi hotspots.
The idea is not entirely new: in May, New York City issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the creation of a citywide network of Internet hotspots by replacing its aging network of public pay telephones with public connection points.
Scarcella noted that in 1994, as few as 15% of South Africans had access to telephony, with payphones therefore prevalent. However, since the advent of mobile, the penetration rate has increased to approximately 128%.
“The result is that no one uses payphones anymore,” he said.
“We’ve got the infrastructure, we’ve got cables going to that payphone, and the next phase of connectivity is data, rather than voice telephony. And so the idea is, how do we turn those payphones into data Wi-Fi hotspots that people can use on smart devices,” Scarcella said.
The marketing lead said that Telkom still operated approximately 20,000 payphones around the country. “They tend to generally be in previously disadvantaged areas, or less affluent areas,” he pointed out.
Brian Armstrong, Telkom’s chief operating officer, recently told a media gathering that the group has 45,000 payphones on its network, but added that it wanted to reduce that number.
Armstrong said that Telkom decommissioned as many as 1,400 phones in 2013, adding that as few as 2,000 were still profitable, mostly in prisons.
Scarcella said that the payphones would become Wi-Fi hotspots within a 10 metre radius, adding that the idea would be to make the service free. “How we fund it is part of the feasibility study,” he said.
He said that the phones would look more or less the same, with an additional transponder inside emitting a 10 metre signal.
He said that it was unclear as to when roll-out would take place, but that would become clearer following the feasibility study.
“It’s an idea for now,” Scarcella said.
This article was first published on BusinessTech.