Retro: 20 years ago, telephone booths were given a “groundbreaking” function. It was possible to send SMS messages from them

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Exactly a year ago, the last functional telephone booth in the Czech Republic ended. Thanks to the good mobile signal coverage of practically the entire populated Czech territory and the sufficient distribution of mobile phones among people, it has no longer paid to maintain this service for the public.

At the time of its greatest prosperity, 30,000 telephone booths were in operation in the Czech Republic. In the late 1990s, however, their use began to decline for the first time. They were gradually being pushed out by mobile phones, especially one of their then very popular functions – SMS.

It was in response to the expanding text communication that the then operator of booths, the state-owned company Český Telecom, came up with a novelty. An SMS message could also be sent from the booth, and if someone wanted to type a lot of characters on the dial in the booth, they could also send an e-mail.

Complicated SMS path

The procedure from the user’s point of view was relatively intuitive, but the technical solution on the part of the operator was more complicated. At that time, Český Telecom did not operate any mobile services, but this was the period preceding the connection with Eurotel. The technical solution of this service had to be outsourced to other companies.

The customer in the booth on the display of the payphone selected the item SMS service, entered the mobile phone number, tapped the message and sent. The introductory price of one sent SMS was CZK 0.90, later it doubled. Even so, it was a relatively “fair” offer within the then prices on mobile tariffs and subscriptions.

Subsequently, an SMS sent from the booth traveled to the Ascom PMS (Payphone Management System) monitoring center. If you sent an e-mail, it was delivered to the Czech Telecom IOL internet unit, which immediately sent it to the intended recipient. However, SMS had to add one more system, namely to the network of the multinational mobile operator Materna Group, where it entered the Materna SMS center. From there, it was just delivered to the recipient.

The sending of SMS messages was made possible by 15,000 telephone booths with newer types of payphones, ie about half of the total number. It was paid with Trick phone cards, which was roughly similar to prepaid cards with a charged credit of CZK 150, 200 and 300. The card was the size of a bank card and similarly inserted into a payphone. After running out of credit, it became worthless. Someone collected phone cards because they were made in many colors with a variety of graphic motifs. About a year later, it was possible to pay for coins sent with coins.

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