I had a letter this week from a reader regarding a subject I have failed to mention so far in my numerous articles of computing on the move.Mr Ian MacMillian wrote in with the following, enclosing a cutting of a recent article from the Sunday Telegraph regarding the new phone boxes that BT are setting up which are similar to traditional phone boxes however they also allow you to e-mail, SMS or use the Internet using their inbuilt computer systems:

Please find the enclosed cutting from the Sunday Telegraph which might be of interest to you.

From a local viewpoint, there are already two phone boxes in Torquay which can send e-mails and SMS text messages to mobile phones.There is one opposite Burger King in Fleet Walk and one at the bottom of Market Street.I had a go on the one in Fleet Walk and found that it was easy to use.It has a QWERTY keyboard and computer-style screen and can send an e-mail or text message for 20p.These boxes opened in July 2001, but they don’t seem to have received much publicity, so many people may not know that they are there.

BT also has phone boxes offering full Internet access.The nearest one is at Granada motorway services in Exeter, but I have not seen or tried this one.

When BT announced its programme of introducing e-mail and Internet phone boxes, some critics argued that in an age when most teenagers have mobile phones, the boxes would not prove a huge success.This is slightly unfair because they are good value compared to a cyber café, particularly for the e-mails.They should also prove attractive to students and tourists as they can send an e-mail anywhere in the world for a fraction of the cost of a voice-based call.

I am not in the business of doing free publicity for BT, but it does seem a bit odd that so little fanfare has been given to these new boxes in Torquay.In a few years’ time boxes of this type will become more common and maybe there will be boxes of this type in Paignton, Brixham and elsewhere.Meanwhile, the two Torquay boxes are the only ones of this type within the Torbay area.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. MacMillian for his comments and positive feedback for this column.I have had the opportunity to use one of the Internet payphones in Heathrow airport although it was not manufactured by BT.The unit was extremely easy to use although I am still slightly sceptical on the success these units will have due to two points which I envision.

  • It seems in this day and age that technology is so rapidly changing that the units may have to be continually updated to take advantage of new technologies such as Broadband access, new graphics technologies of web pages etc.This will obviously cost BT a great deal of money as to do such an upgrade will probably require a complete replacement of the system which could be costly.In addition, it will be more expensive to perform regular maintenance and repairs to an e-payphone box than a standard phone booth.
  • It is not uncommon to walk around any town or city and see a vandalised phone box.Obviously, if this phone box also houses a computer with TFT screen then its repair may be quite a bit more costly.Many of us will remember the ‘Internet Bench’ that Microsoft pioneered which was vandalised within days of its construction not so long ago.

Aside from these reservations, I think that the theory is good; it will be interesting to see how the rollout of these boxes continues and quite how much of a success they will have both in the Torbay area and over the country.If anybody has any feedback on this issue, or indeed anything unrelated then please e-mail me via editor@thisissouthdevon.co.uk or write to Chris Holgate, c/o Herald Express, Torquay, TQ2 8JN.

To come to a close this week, I would like to thank you all for reading Click over the last 52 weeks exactly and that I hope that you’ve enjoyed and learnt something from these series of articles.I hope that you all have a very happy Christmas, and I’ll see you again, next Saturday before the New Year.

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.