As part of its ambition to transform the UK’s streets with a “future-proofed” digital communications service through the roll-out of its new Street Hub 2.0 units, BT is donating up to £7.5m of outdoor advertising space to small businesses to help build the country’s digital infrastructure with services such as digital advertising screens and fast Wi-Fi.
The telco began deploying the Street Hub units – previously known as InLink – in December 2019 and Street Hub 2.0 was first announced in June 2021, offering users features such as sustainable design, environment monitoring for local authorities and the ability to boost 4G/5G mobile coverage.
Street Hubs connect to free public Wi-Fi, with an outdoor Wi-Fi access point connected directly to the fibre broadband network, bringing speeds of up to 1Gbps to users within 150m of the unit. The new units can also incorporate 4G and 5G small cells to help improve network coverage and capacity for local residents, local businesses and visitors to high streets.
These are said to be already delivering a wide range of economic, social and technology benefits to communities and local councils, such as connecting local residents, businesses and visitors to free Wi-Fi, and ensuring people can contact to emergency services or charity helplines in times of need.
Alongside newly appointed hardware supplier Trueform Digital, BT will continue to partner with Manchester-based technology, software and support supplier ADXBA, and media and entertainment group Global as its advertising partner to support the new digital street hubs, which will be installed alongside existing units.
BT’s Street Hub 2.0 units include the option to install mini mobile masts or “small cells” on the structure to further boost local 4G and 5G coverage. The Street Hubs also feature free gigabit Wi-Fi and rapid mobile device charging, enhancing digital connectivity and services for communities. Other benefits include access to an emergency call button, charity helplines, and local wayfinding via an integrated tablet.
The deployment comes as BT released details of research that shows more than three-fifths of small businesses agree that local advertising would help to increase awareness of their business, with two-fifths saying it would encourage more people to shop at their local high street. However, almost half said that cost was a major obstacle to them investing in local out-of-home advertising.
BT said that with the Street Hub’s digital advertising screens, it is now taking action to remove one of the biggest barriers to adoption, helping small firms to attract more customers following local and national Covid lockdowns. The study also revealed that about two-thirds of local businesses think mobile connectivity could be improved in their local community to help them work faster and smarter.
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Subject to local planning processes, BT aims to roll out about 300 Street Hub 2.0 units across the UK in the next 12 months, working closely with local councils and communities such as the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where the first Street Hub 2.0 unit is being deployed. Located in the Notting Hill Gate area, the unit is co-located with a pop-up Design Hub to showcase digital street advertising for small firms looking to boost awareness of their business following the pandemic.
At the site, design experts will create free digital ads for 15 prize-winners of a BT competition that gathered nominations from local businesses and the public, and the adverts will be displayed on the six Street Hub units free of charge. A further 60 local businesses are also being given the chance to advertise for free over the next two weeks, with BT opening up nominations immediately.
“BT’s Street Hubs ensure that Londoners have access to fast and free Wi-Fi across the capital while on the go. They improve mobile signal and help councils to get vital local information to their residents,” said Theo Blackwell, chief digital officer for London. “The pandemic has been incredibly challenging for many small businesses, so I am pleased that BT is supporting London’s businesses through free local digital advertising.”
Between now and the end of March 2022, and as the new units are rolled out to locations across the UK including Glasgow, Cardiff, Nottingham, Birmingham, Solihull and Southampton, BT is gifting free advertising space worth up to £7.5m to local businesses via its Street Hub 2.0 units. The company said it will contact local businesses and the public in these areas over the coming weeks to encourage them to nominate local firms that could benefit from the offer.
“BT has been supporting the recovery and growth of small businesses throughout the pandemic – and we are moving up a gear now that lockdown restrictions have lifted,” said James Browne, who runs BT’s Street business. “We hope that by gifting free digital advertising space via our new Street Hub units, we can give small businesses an extra boost as high streets spring back to life.
“The Street Hub units can play a vital role in helping small firms to bounce back – whether by building greater awareness of their business through free advertising, or by rejuvenating the high street by boosting local digital infrastructure.”