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This U.K. City Wants You to Walk on Its Wi-Fi-Enabled Pavement

Residents of Chesham are set for a high tech internet upgrade thanks to some very smart sidewalks.

via virgin media

When we think of Wi-Fi signals, we likely imagine them buzzing (buzzing, right?) through the air—from our laptops, to our tablets, to our phones, and out again into the ether. However, in the town of Chesham, located in England’s Chiltern District, a new public Wi-Fi initiative will embed high-speed internet connectivity directly into the pavement beneath the feet of residents, instead.


Virgin Media, in partnership with the Chiltern District Council, announced plans last week to “blanket Chesham’s high street with superfast Wi-Fi” able to accommodate up to 166 megabits per second, or about seven times faster than the United Kingdom’s average broadband speed. To do so, the city will employ what Virgin calls “Smart Pavement,” which “connects directly to Virgin Media’s fiber network and provides ultrafast Wi-Fi via a submerged access point beneath a specially developed resin cover.”

In a release put out by Virgin, Chesham’s town counselor, Fred Wilson, contextualized the significance of this initiative, saying:

“I am delighted that we’ve been able to bring a U.K. first to Chesham with Virgin Media’s ultrafast Wi-Fi, helping local people and businesses get online. Efficient connectivity is pivotal to running businesses today and I am proud we are part of a project which is crossing new boundaries.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by local businessperson and spokesperson for the Better Chesham Group, Martin Parkes:

“It’s great that our customers have access to Virgin Media’s public Wi-Fi both in and outside our salon. We're a very unique high street with many independent shops so we don't have the IT infrastructure that big chains benefit from. This will hugely help levelling the playing field and will hopefully bring more people to Chesham too.”

Repurposing ubiquitous civic fixtures is becoming more and more common as cities look to upgrade their high-tech capacity without drastically changing their streets’ facades. For example, plans to revamp New York’s Times Square include a series of relatively unassuming granite benches, each dozens of feet long. Inside each bench, however will be a a series of fiber optic cables and chords, connected to the city’s power grid, capable of providing electricity for future events, such as concerts, in the much-trafficked plaza.

Virgin chose to launch their Wi-Fi-enabled sidewalks in Chesham because, the company explains:

“Chesham is demographically representative of the U.K. 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.”

In other words, if this Smart Pavement experiment proves to be a success there, it’s possible that we’ll all be walking on Wi-Fi someday down the line.

[via ifl science, virgin media]

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