VoIP the Savior of Payphones?

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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VoIP the Savior of Payphones?

A few days ago I came across a news story about the demise of the payphone. In this article it begins:

Long gone are the phone booth's golden days when Superman metamorphosed inside and anonymous informers called in tips from the street corner.

But even as the plastic cracks, the cords are snipped, and wads of old chewing gum jam the coin returns, a modest movement to preserve the phone booth is rippling through state legislatures. To the phone booth's defenders, it is more than a matter of simple nostalgia: It cuts to the roots of social equality, public safety, and common sense.

According to the Federal Communications Commission,
the number of pay phones in the US dropped to 1.5 million in 2003, down from 2.1
million five years earlier - as the number of cellphone users surged. In Maine
during that same period, the number of pay phones declined by almost half, says
Mr. Adams.

The article goes on to explain that legislators are attempting to "save the payphone" for public safety concerns. I could say corner public payphones are used by criminals, drug dealers, etc. but I would probably be accused of being anti-poor, politically incorrect or something.

Skype payphone kioskAnyhoo, I'm sure payphones do have their legal uses by law-abiding citizens. Which brings me to my next point. If payphones are in decline, part of the reason for their decline is the profit margins are just too small. Who is going to pay $0.25 cents for a call when cell phone calls are virtually free?

Perhaps the profit margins can possible be improved with VoIP? Well, at least in Japan they think so. I came across a Japanese website showing a VoIP payphone kiosk running Skype. (photo to the left).

Of course the cost of running a PC to run the Skype software and the cost of electricity to run the PC and the screen might be cost prohibitive compared to a traditional payphone. But perhaps if it's an Internet kiosk, as well, it can allow you to check email, surf the Web, call via Skype, etc.

Hey... Remember the movies where you'd see someone in the phone booth taking a long time and someone banging on the phone booth saying, "C'mon, hurry up - I gotta make a phone call."? Well, imagine if cities start having "public Internet kiosks" on the streets. You'll have people banging on the enclosed kiosks saying "C'mon, hurry up - I gotta check my Hotmail, I've got an eBay auction expiring in 5 minutes, and I have to add a DVD selection to my NetFlix list!"

Ok, maybe I'm being dramatic. Most people who really need continuous Internet access probably use either a Blackberry or a SmartPhone PDA with Internet browser support.

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