UK’s first ‘smart Wi-Fi pavement’ to be installed in Chesham

Chesham high street will be the first in the UK to get its own smart Wi-Fi pavement, providing download speeds of up to 166Mbps

The UK’s first “smart Wi-Fi pavement” is to be installed in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, providing over 21,000 residents, businesses and visitors with free superfast public Wi-Fi from under their feet.

The smart pavement will cover Chesham’s high street and parts of Lowndes Park, according to Virgin Media, which is installing the network, and will provide download speeds of up to 166Mbps – seven times the average UK broadband speed.

Local people will reportedly be able to download an episode of Coronation Street, Strictly Come Dancing or Gogglebox at the bus stop with a download speed of less than 35 seconds, assuming a file size of 634Mb.

The network is provided by Wi-Fi access points concealed under manhole covers in the pavement, as well as other “street furniture” such as lamp posts. The manhole covers are made from a specially developed resin that allows radio signals to pass through it.

A specially developed resin manhole cover. Photo:  Jack Terry/Virgin Media/PA Wire

This allows users to pick up ultrafast Wi-Fi at distances of up to 80m from Virgin Media’s high street cabinets, according to Virgin Media.

Users will be able to connect to the network by selecting “Virgin Media Wi-Fi” within the Wi-Fi settings on their device. Virgin Media mobile customers with an Android device will also be able access it through the Virgin Media Wi-Fi Buddy app.

“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 Wi-Fi connected pavement. It is literally public Wi-Fi under your feet,” said Gregor McNeil, managing director of consumer at Virgin Media.

“We want to build more networks like this across the UK and encourage more forward thinking councils just like Chesham to get in touch.”

Virgin Media said it chose to work with Chiltern District Council, and Chesham in particular, as the local authority is actively engaged with the local people in trying to find ways to enhance the area for both residents and businesses.

Chesham is demographically representative of the UK population as a whole and is of a size that allows a quick deployment of services across the whole town, rather than specific locations.

In addition, there is a significant presence of independent businesses in the town centre that allow for local-level discussions when piloting new ideas and technology.

“Efficient connectivity is pivotal to running businesses today and I am proud we are part of a project which is crossing new boundaries,” said Councillor Fred Wilson, Chiltern District Council’s cabinet member for customer services and Chesham Town Councillor.

Earlier this year, Virgin Media announced that it was preparing a major expansion of its Wi-Fi network to mount as stronger challenge to BT as broadband and mobile services come together.

This is the first in a series of initiatives to deliver better out-of-home connectivity. The company said it is already in talks with two more local councils on similar public Wi-Fi projects.

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