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BT running late with scheme to convert street cabinets into EV chargers

UK incumbent BT is pushing on with its plan to breath new life into some of its ageing infrastructure, albeit a little later than intimated.

Nick Wood

January 8, 2024

2 Min Read
source: BT

Rather than rip out some of its older street cabinets, BT's incubator arm Etc has been exploring whether they can be repurposed as electric vehicle (EV) chargers. With as many as 60,000 cabinets eligible for conversion, if successful, the scheme would help to address the lack of charging infrastructure, which is a major barrier to EV adoption.

Indeed, 60 percent of respondents to a recent BT survey said charging infrastructure is inadequate, while 38 percent said they would already own an EV if charging it were less of an issue. 78 percent of petrol and diesel drivers said not being able to conveniently charge an EV is a barrier to getting one.

BT's solution works by retrofitting cabinets with a device that can share renewable energy with a charge point in addition to the existing broadband service with no need to create a new power connection. Provided there is sufficient space and power available, it can work with cabinets that are still delivering copper-based broadband, as well as those that are due to be decommissioned.

"Our new charging solution is a huge step in bringing EV charging kerbside and exploring how we can address key barriers customers are currently facing," said Tom Guy, managing director of Etc at BT.

BT isn't doing this purely for benevolent reasons – it is a business, after all. It will also explore various financial options – including public funding, private investment, and partnerships – to ensure there is a commercial upside to all this. It will also consider whether to run the operation as a dedicated BT Group venture or in partnership with others.

Another good reason to turn cabinets into EV chargers is that they could one day be used by Openreach. Should its infrastructure division make the transition to EVs, it would be useful to have an in-house charging network that overlaps its telecoms network.

The question is when can it realistically be expected to be up and running?

Back in July, BT said the first phase of the initiative would kick off in Northern Ireland in the Autumn, but now it's saying that its first converted cabinet will go live in East Lothian, Scotland in the coming weeks.

"Working closely with local councils in Scotland and more widely across the UK, we are at a critical stage of our journey in tackling a very real customer problem that sits at the heart of our wider purpose to connect for good," Guy said.

The latest announcement makes no reference to a delay, or to Northern Ireland for that matter, but it does reveal that the street cabinet conversion scheme received an honourable mention at this year's CES awards.

With the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) lifting the embargo on CES award honorees this morning, ahead of the show's start tomorrow, this is probably the best explanation for why BT is putting out an update about a late-running pilot project.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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