A footpath in the UK has been equipped with free Wi-Fi coverage, with manholes, on-street cabinets, and other ‘street furniture’ being used to broadcast the signal, which reaches maximum speeds of 166 Mbps and can be accessed from up to 80 metres (260 feet) away.
For the time being, this is a very small-scale scheme: the connected street has been set up in the market town of Chesham, home to some 21,000 people, about 50 km outside of London. As you might expect, it’s a promotional stunt on the part of Virgin Media, but the company says it’s committed to improving public Wi-Fi access across the country, and will be using feedback from the trial in Chesham to help inform its future plans.
The broadband provider says it chose Chesham as the trial site because of the council’s innovative philosophy, the town’s small size, and its broad demographic (which apparently reflects the country as a whole). What’s more, there’s a high number of independent businesses in the town centre that can help test and refine the service.
“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,” says Virgin Media director, Gregor McNeil. “It is literally public Wi-Fi 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.”
Virgin Media provides broadband Internet to UK homes and businesses through underground cables installed in the road network, so the new service is tapping into infrastructure that’s already in place. What’s not clear is how easily members of the public can log on – presumably there’s some kind of straightforward sign-in process, unless the network has been left completely unprotected.
“We’re a very unique high street with many independent shops so we don’t have the IT infrastructure that big chains benefit from,” says local business owner, Martin Parkes. “This will hugely help levelling the playing field and will hopefully bring more people to Chesham too.”
It’s another step towards smarter cities, not just in the UK but across the world: the same technology we’re used to in our homes could soon be coming to public areas and road networks, covering everything from air pollution sensors to charging stations, as well as free Wi-Fi access.