The Pay Phone of the Future

Courtesy Vector Media

The pay phone cries out for a modern replacement.

Amazingly, the pay phone of the future is simpler, less costly, more rugged, and far more functional. At first view, it is neither a phone nor a booth. It is a flat panel embedded in the wall of a building or on the surface of a monolith. It comprises a touch screen—using armored glass, of course—with a microphone, speaker, and video camera behind comparably rugged protectors.

By the time New York City’s pay phone is implemented (On Dec. 4, the city invited the public to help redesign the pay phone), say two or three years from now, every reasonably smart cell phone will contain a near field transceiver (many phones are already so equipped) with which the future pay phone will be able to communicate.

A person will only need to approach the new device, state his ID verbally, and request a service. Verbally challenged people can use the touch screen. It will make a phone call, send a text message or e-mail, connect a video call, and of course, place emergency calls. The latter will be free; other calls will be billed through a variety of means, including reading a credit card or graphic equivalent with its camera, responding to a typed-in credit-card number, reading a cell phone’s number, and billing the calls “collect.”

A combination of facial and voice recognition will, in a few years, be as secure as a fingerprint, and that will become the prime identifier. The key feature will be simplicity. Other features could be added; they would only complicate things.

All this could be implemented very quickly—no new technology is required.

Why would a cell phone owner use a pay phone? Coverage will never be totally universal; a user may not have paid his phone bill, or may not even have wireless service. Google or PayPal, or the equivalent, will pay the bill.