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Spark to modernise public phone booth network

Spark to modernise public phone booth network

Will also outright remove low-use booths from June this year.

Credit: Spark

Spark plans to update its New Zealand public phone booth network by replacing it with more modern services.

According to Tessa Tierney, Spark product director, the telco is in the process of exploring what a “modern phone booth” looks like, hinting that it could include wayfinding services, in-build environmental sensors and localised news and content.

Due to the technology in play, current fixed-line phone booths cannot be upgraded to fibre or wireless and will need to be replaced entirely.

“Phone booths became part of Spark in our Telecom days of the 1980s, when we split from the New Zealand Post Office and in 2013 we upgraded many of them to include Wi-Fi hot spotting. But since that time a lot has changed in Aotearoa – the vast majority of New Zealanders now have mobile phones and free Wi-Fi is more readily available,” Tierney said.

“Call volumes on the fixed-line phone booth network have declined by nearly 70 per cent over the last four years and approximately 90 per cent of them are being used for an average of less than three minutes per day. The use of our Wi-Fi hot spotting has followed a similar downward trajectory.

“At the same time, the technologies that make these phone booths work – copper wiring and the public switched telephone network (PSTN) – are both end-of-life and in the process of being retired gradually across the country. Some of the physical equipment is not even being manufactured anymore and we’re running low on spare parts to use when there are faults, which leaves some booths non-operational.”

In addition to replacing phone booths with more modern technology, booths that are no longer fit-for-purpose and not being used as frequently will be outright removed, which will start with a “small number” in Auckland’s North Shore, East Auckland and Wellington South from June of this year.

The removal of these booths will be in line with the gradual retirement of Spark’s PSTN and Chorus’ copper network.

“We anticipate that the vast majority of New Zealanders won’t notice this change, given the very low levels of usage we see on phone booths these days,” Tierney added.

“We do recognise, however, that for the small amount of people who still use phone booths, they may find this change unsettling – which is why we’ve been liaising with key community groups around New Zealand to identify and work through any concerns.

“Nowadays there are a range of low-cost mobile phones and plans available, that can be purchased for less than $40 and can be far more cost effective than making calls from a phone booth, while WIFI hotspots are also now readily available in public libraries as well as many local restaurants and public spaces such as shopping malls.

“We want to assure New Zealanders that this isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. Both the retirement of low usage phone booths and any upgrading to more modern alternatives will take a number of years to complete.”

Earlier this year in March, Spark created a new strategy director role within its leadership team, or "squad", and filled it with UK-based hire Aliza Beckett.


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