A few months ago we reported that Virgin Media were planning to roll-out a new network of FREE public WiFi Hotspots (here) around the UK and today we might be getting our first glimpse of that strategy as the operator begins installing wireless access points under the pavements in central Chesham (Buckinghamshire, England).
The town is home to more than 21,000 people and apparently some residents are already reporting impressive WiFi speeds of up to 166Mbps (Megabits per second) in the town centre, although the new “Smart Pavement” network also extends out to parts of Lowndes Park.
Ordinarily most operators prefer to install WiFi access points above ground, not least because it helps the 2.4GHz signal to propagate, but telecoms infrastructure owners like Virgin Media have a lot of manholes around the place that can also be used (makes it easier to tap directly into their core capacity links) and apparently this approach can still cover an area of up to 80 metres.
The use of a submerged rainproof access point, which sits beneath a specially developed resin cover, is certainly a different twist on the usual deployments. Never the less Virgin Media are also using plenty of traditional access points too, which have been discreetly installed on local street furniture.
Gregor McNeil, Managing Director of Consumer at Virgin Media, 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.”
Isobel Darby, Chiltern District Council Leader, said:
“It’s been a privilege to be part of this pilot and exciting for one of our communities to be involved in this pioneering work, which has the potential to change the way individuals and businesses access and use WiFi in the future.”
At present there are no public roll-out plans for future deployments, although now is the perfect time to do it since the cable operator is busy with the expansion of their network to reach 17 million premises by 2020 (around 60% UK coverage) and preparing future upgrades (DOCSIS3.1) to support faster broadband speeds.
On top of that they’re also experimenting with a BT FON style approach, which turns their customers’ cable broadband routers (SuperHubs) into public WiFi hotspots so that other subscribers can access the Internet when nearby (here). Admittedly Virgin are playing a game of catch-up on this front, but better late than never and strong competition is always welcome.