Virgin Media turns pedestrian pavement into Wi-Fi hotspot

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One of the Wi-Fi hotspot tranceivers

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If you're out and about and need a Wi-Fi connection, the answer may lie beneath your feet. In the English market town of Chesham, Buckinghamshire, broadband telecommunications company Virgin Media and Chiltern District Council have installed what's billed as the "UK’s first ever Smart Pavement." The pilot system, which uses access points hidden under the pavement, provides broadband Wi-Fi to local residents as well as businesses and visitors to the town center.

According to Virgin Media, the Smart Pavement covers Chesham's High Street as well as parts of the local 36-acre (14,5 hectare) Lowndes Park, providing speeds of up to 166 Mbps in the town center, which is seven times the national average.

Smart Pavement works by means of subterranean Wi-Fi access points set in waterproof manholes with resin covers or concealed in street furniture. Each access point has a range of over 80 m (262 ft). The system can be accessed by the public with Virgin Media mobile customers able to seamlessly access the network via an app.

Virgin Media says that it chose Chesham as the site of the pilot program for a number of reasons. With a population of over 21,000, it has a pedestrianized High Street with a number of independent businesses to promote the questions and discussions required for pilot programs. In addition, the local council was keen on finding new ways to enhance the area, which is demographically representative of the present British population, yet is small enough to allow for deploying new services across the whole area in one go.

Fred Wilson, Chiltern District Council’s Cabinet member, with the Wi-Fi pavement

Virgin Media says that this is the first in a series of initiatives that the company is working on to improve out-of-home connectivity and reduce mobile phone data bills.

"Not only is this the first time we’ve built metropolitan Wi-Fi directly from our street cabinets, it is also the UK’s first deployment of a WiFi connected pavement," says Gregor McNeil, Managing Director of Consumer at Virgin Media. "It is literally public WiFi under your feet. We want to build more networks like this across the UK and encourage more forward thinking councils just like Chesham to get in touch."

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