As I traveled home from a ski trip to Canada the other day, I took note of the self-service technology used in the airports. Airports are the largest deployers of kiosks, digital signage and vending that I've come across: Some more than others, obviously. I noticed recently that the Cincinnati airport has taken the time to add a new item to its self-service arsenal: an Internet enabled payphone.
It had a nice hardware form factor, and the interface was OK, but really the design of it looked to be about 10 years old. The unit is produced by a company called Super Pay Phone.
As I walked up to it, I noticed it had a Windows message onscreen. It had evidently recently applied an automatic Windows update and had frozen at a Windors prompt asking whether the user wanted to perform a necessary reboot now or later. I touched the "reboot" button and the unit shut down and went through its start-up process.
There are many reasons why this is bad, including the fact that it allows hackers to see the operating system (to know how to penetrate it). The system forfeits all kinds of additional pertinent information to the hacker during the start-up procedure, including the option to get into the BIOS (which should be password protected with a unique password).
This unit is obviously not PCI compliant.
All of this could be fixed simply by changing the automatic Windows update method to only update late at night (3am) and automatically reboot. Or it could be modified to disallow all automatic updates, leaving that task to a network administrator.
Years ago we priced similar units for Cincinnati Bell, a company that was thinking of replacing all of its traditional payphones with Internet enabled devices. At the time, they just couldn't justify replacing a $300-$600 dollar device with a $3500 device (times thousands). Now, you can hardly find any payphones on the street, and you can only find them occasionally inside. But the smaller start-ups such as Smart Pay Phones may take away the Bell presence in this marketplace, and quickly. It will be interesting to see the rate of adoption of these smart devices that provide greater service than a traditional pay phone. A small company trying to grow a market and network can pay for the devices with advertising and cost cutting (compared to Bell's often expensive overhead) with leasing of hardware, and Internet access.
I think the hardware is pretty nice, but a few tweaks to interface and security would make this much better. I'd love to know what kind of usage it gets. I doubt it is much. Those few travelers who don't have a cell phone or those who are interested in the "gadget" aspect of the phone will enjoy it, but I frankly would not be likely to use it. What about you? Would you use a device such as this when travelling? How about around your home town? E-mail me and let me know.
This commentary originally appeared here.