Not content with bringing WiFi to over a hundred London Underground stations, Virgin Media is now literally bringing wireless Internet access to British streets.
Teaming up with Chiltern District Council, the cable broadband provider has dug up the paving slabs of Chesham high street in leafy Buckinghamshire.
Dubbed the UK’s first ‘smart pavement’ system, Virgin Media says that residents, businesses and folks passing through Chesham, will be able to enjoy speeds of up to 166Mbps on their phones, tablets and laptops.
Users will easily be able to connect by selecting ‘Virgin Media WiFi’ from the WiFi settings on their device, although some Android devices will need to connect through the Virgin Media WiFi Buddy app. As it’s a free public WiFi service, anyone can use it regardless of whether they’re Virgin Media customers.
The pilot is currently available to 21,000 homes and businesses in the area, which covers the centre of Chesham and parts of the 36-acre Lowndes Park. Virgin Media says that WiFi connectivity is possible at distances of up to 80 metres from the nearest street cabinet.
Gregor McNeil, managing director of consumer products at Virgin Media described the scheme as a potential stepping stone to future high street rollouts.
McNeil said: “Not only is this the first time we’ve built metropolitan WiFi directly from our street cabinets, it is also the UK’s first deployment of a WiFi-connected pavement. 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.”
The ‘smart pavements’ are connected directly to Virgin Media’s street cabinets, meaning availability of this technology will be determined by the length and breadth of Virgin Media’s cable footprint, which currently passes around 12.5 million UK premises.
Virgin Media announced ‘Project Lightning’ earlier this year, an expansion programme which will see its footprint grow to cover 18 million locations within the next five years.
So, why Chesham of all places? Virgin Media says that the size of the town meant that the project could be completed with minimal disruption. Apparently it’s demographically representative of the UK population as a whole, which should give the cable company an idea of where to go next with such a service.