Public wi-fi might be a hazard and using a phone while you walk is so annoying the Chinese have started installing texting lanes for pedestrians, but that hasn’t stopped Virgin media from installing wi-fi sidewalks in the UK.
The project, piloted in the town of Chesham, has been labeled with the rather embarrassing 1990s-era names of “Streetsurfing” and the more up-to-date-but-equally-lame “Smart Pavement.” It puts 166Mbps wi-fi under residents’ feet, mounted on the underside of the street’s many manhole covers. The connection hooks up to Virgin’s nearby street exchange cabinets, and the whole system relies on fiber optic cabling.
Local businesses are happy, because they see free wi-fi as a basic amenity that malls and chains can offer, but individual stores cannot–not in any practical way at least. “This will hugely help leveling the playing field and will hopefully bring more people to Chesham too,” says local businessperson Martin Parkes to Virgin Media.
Chesham is home to 21,000 people, all of whom will have access to the under-street wi-fi. The speed might be the most impressive thing about it. Why would people on the street need such fast internet? Here’s an example from Virgin Media:
Local people can download an episode of Coronation Street [a popular long-running soap opera] at the bus stop with a download speed of less than 35 seconds assuming a file size of 634Mb.
Given that the UK’s main channels all offer apps with free access to their programming, that’s a great use case, especially given the dreariness and length of a typical English bus ride.