IStation breathes life into payphones

The iStation is back in the streets, setting up a potentially interesting competition between a video-enhanced phone booth and the latest cellphones. But this one is also watching you.

The iStation is back in the streets, setting up a potentially interesting competition between a video-enhanced phone booth and the latest cellphones. But this one is also watching you.

One discreet feature in the new touch-screen information terminals appearing on the streets of Wellington, which let users call up maps of the city and information on food, entertainment, shopping, travel and accommodation for free, is a small video camera like that at an ATM. It is represented as a security surveillance measure, but the company behind the scheme does not hesitate to point out that it gives valuable clues to "what kind of person uses the iStation at what times". This will, in due course, be fed into marketing analysis for advertisers on the screens.

The terminals, first devised in 2001 as part of a larger service kiosk, have shrunk to payphone-booth size. Through an agreement with Telecom, iStations have replaced three of its diminishing population of voice-only payphone booths. The latest iStations, in a three-month trial, are sited in Lambton Quay at the foot of Cablecar Lane, at the corner of Manners Street and Cuba Mall, and at the St James Theatre in Courtenay Place. A modified model, set in the wall like an ATM, has been sited for about three months at Wellington City Council’s information offices.

The iStation company approached Telecom last year, says Telecom national payphones manager Sheridan Broadbent.

"We are interested to see where this could take the payphones business," which has understandably been flagging with the widespread use of cellphones.

The iStation delivers information -- still, video, voice -- with a complement of advertising (a 2Mbit/s downstream-256Mbit/s upstream link is provided by Telecom). Information can be "sliced and diced" in a number of ways, calling up, for example, all Japanese restaurants in Wellington, or all licensed restaurants of any kind in a particular locality. Users can print out a copy of the information they need, which may contain a sponsor's voucher for a discount at one of the restaurants or somewhere completely different. Displays of paid advertisers are highly coloured and logo-enhanced displays of paid advertisers. There is also a standard payphone in the enclosure.

The iStation was conceived by Graham Bloxham, originally as a steel edifice the size of a garden shed (6m x 2m). It was to include an ATM and a small retail outlet such as a coffee stall, as well as the information terminal. Bloxham and his company, i4info, had trouble getting planning permission for the booths.

Bloxham is still involved with the company known as iStation NZ Ltd now selling the smaller kiosk; his group is providing the software, says marketing manager Clay Nelson. The company also has a hardware unit, under Mike Healey, and Nelson’s marketing division.

Nelson, who has a variety of advertising and marketing interests and the AMPM Calling call centre in central Wellington, is possibly most notable for a stint helping Telecom and Chris Tyler found the Xtra ISP.

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