A £3 MILLION project is being rolled out to create a network of "smart street furniture" across Belfast city centre, helping people to stay connected and even saving lives.
The 'Pulse Smart Hub', the first of its kind in the UK, will see users benefit from a raft of services including free public wifi; free local and national calls; mobile phone charging and mobile data offloading; a defibrillator; a touch-screen to access local maps, services, facilities and visitor information; and sensors that capture crucial data on air quality, traffic flow and footfall.
The innovative project is a collaboration between London-based Pulse Smart Hub, Belfast-based telecommunications operator Euro Payphone, and outdoor advertising company Exterion Media UK.
It will support the city's 'Smart Belfast' initiative, which brings together universities, businesses, local government and citizens to collaborate, innovate and experiment using cutting-edge technologies and data science.
Belfast Council has granted permission for 19 hubs so far, with applications pending to make a network of 30, and the infrastructure will start going into place from October.
Patrick Fisher, chief executive of Pulse Smart Hub, said: “We've been working closely with local stakeholders to ensure the network supports Belfast City Council’s strategic vision for smart cities and that the benefits to the city and its residents are truly maximised and available free to all.”
"Pulse Smart Hubs represent the 21st century evolution of the telephone box which was first introduced in 1920s. The hubs are 60 per cent smaller than an existing phone kiosk, creating a modern, uncluttered street scene."
Ongoing maintenance of the smart street furniture will be funded via digital advertising, which will be displayed on the hubs, helping local authorities to provide a state-of-the-art public service at no cost to the public purse.
Mr Fisher Fisher added: "In the age of the smart city, street furniture must do more to earn its place on the high street. At no cost to the public or taxpayer, the Pulse Smart Hub is the smartest of smart furniture - a network of beautifully designed and engineered hubs that provide next generation connectivity, share information, track the environment, and ultimately, save lives."
Gerry Judge, owner of Euro-Payphone, said: “Our existing telecommunications infrastructure is outdated and does not provide the range of services that people who live in and visit Belfast now require.
"Developing multi-functional state-of-the-art smart hubs incorporating good design and services that are free-of-charge is a public benefit and will ensure Belfast maintains its position as one of the UK’s leading smart digital cities."
Councillor Lee Reynolds, DUP group leader on Belfast City Council, said: “Positioning Belfast as a smart city is a key priority for the Council and is at the heart of establishing the city as an outstanding place to live, work and invest.
"The Pulse Smart Hub network involves a significant private investment and will deliver state-of-the-art digital infrastructure throughout the city centre.
"The network will increase connectivity and provide a range of free services to the public; and the fact that each hub will house a public access defibrillator is of huge public benefit and will help to save lives in the future."
Eleven redundant Euro-Payphone kiosks will be removed as part of the scheme and replaced with the smart hubs.