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U.K. unveils first ‘smart sidewalk’ offering fast, free Wi-Fi to strollers

The U.K. has taken its first step toward offering free Wi-Fi via its sidewalks – or pavements as the Brits like to call them – thanks to the efforts of carrier Virgin Media to help local people and businesses get online.

OK, so far it’s only one sidewalk in one very small town, but hey, it’s a start.

The so-called “smart pavement” runs along the main street of Chesham – a town with a population of around 20,000 located about 30 miles north-east of London – and offers Internet speeds of up to 166 Mbps, around seven times faster than average broadband speeds currently available in the U.K.

Related: Google wants to bring free Wi-Fi to the streets of NY City

So how exactly has Virgin Media achieved the feat of creating a high-tech sidewalk? According to the company, the system uses “a variety of discreet street furniture,” including its on-street cabinets and manholes, to deliver the Wi-Fi, with access possible up to 80 meters from the sidewalk.

Commenting on the initiative, Virgin Media’s Gregor McNeil said, “It is literally public Wi-Fi under your feet. We want to build more networks like this across the U.K. and encourage more forward thinking councils just like Chesham to get in touch.”

Distracted walking

The question now is, will Chesham now see an uptick in the number of distracted walking incidents as residents and visitors alike scramble to make use of the sidewalk in a bid to save on their mobile bill?

There’ve been plenty of stories of unfortunate incidents and accidents involving folks buried in their smartphones while out and about, from a woman who walked straight into an icy canal to another who stepped off the end of a pier. And then there’s the fact that texting while walking can make us look, well, a but silly.

Related: There’s free Wi-Fi at the top of Japan’s highest mountain

But if things get really bad and there’s carnage on the sidewalks of Chesham, Virgin Media may have to follow the example of Utah University or the Belgian city of Antwerp and put down special “texting lanes” to maintain order on the streets and prevent injurious collisions. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.