INSIGHT

We drank our own Kool Aid

Disruptive broadband baked into pavements

It’s a frosty morning in Chesham and the pavement crunches underfoot as shoppers make their way along the quaint Main Street.

On the surface this is the traditional Home Counties town, complete with cosy pubs, a poppy-strewn War Memorial and the charming Mr Sims’ Olde Sweet Shoppe. Yet in connectivity terms, Chesham is anything but traditional. It’s the leading-edge of disruption. Because beneath the frost-dusted pavements lie several Virgin Media Business wifi access points, making the town - unlikely as it sounds - one of the best connected in country.

Bucks' hosted of disruption

Simon Clement works on Virgin Media Business’ ‘Advanced Technology and Trials’ team, which first came up with the idea of using existing street furniture to house the technology that brings ultrafast wifi to the high street. Chesham was chosen as the location for an ongoing trial that would assist with an eventual rollout of the scheme, and today Simon is in town to make sure service is as seamless as it should be.

He says: "Connected pavements and street furniture were very much about being disruptive. Besides placing wifi access points under the footpath we can use the 300,000 street cabinets we own around the country. Over the course of six months 16,000 different devices have used our service to get online in Chesham. In a town of 21,000 people that’s almost everybody."

"The company ethos is to have the best connected devices anywhere. The trial in Chesham is helping us achieve that."

 
 

Using the service couldn’t be simpler. Wifi enabled devices pick up “Virgin Media Free Wi-Fi”, and after agreeing to the usual to terms and conditions users are free to surf as they wish at speeds of up to 166Mbps. The trial has been so successful that the same technology has been introduced to Islington and Croydon for the benefit of Virgin Media customers, with more locations in the pipeline.

Choices influenced by connectivity

Our dedication to disrupting internet on-the-go isn’t confined to what we’re doing in Chesham; it led to our purchase of the highly regarded Arqiva WiFi group earlier this year. Head of Strategy and Insights, Raphael Jouenne, oversaw the acquisition, which builds on Virgin Media Business’s reputation as a market leader in convenient connectivity with a network that includes the London Underground.

Raphael says: “Arqiva WiFi was very much on our radar. Wifi is hugely important to customers in places like cafes, hotels and airports. Studies show that when it comes to picking a hotel the quality of the wifi is as influential as breakfast and other amenities. Connectivity is influencing choices in a much greater way than people imagined just a few years ago, and it was an obvious choice for us, as a market leader, to consolidate our position.”

The purchase of Arqiva WiFi, with its broad client base, has not only grown, but diversified our reach.

Raphael says: “They had quite a number of interesting sites, including Heathrow Airport, as well as Travelodge and Premier Inn hotels. We knew these would bring scale and depth, as well as the right customer base. The acquisition increases our footprint from 3,000 to 7,000 sites with 32,000 access points around the UK, and naturally we see that growing. Enabling our customers to be connected wherever they are is our priority. We won’t rest until we are providing that level of service.”

Leading the field

Back in Chesham, residents are delighted with the quality service on offer in the town centre. Busy postwoman and mum-of-three Lorraine Blair is tapping away at her smartphone, which is connected to the free wifi.

Lorraine says: “This isn’t the most likely place for a high tech network, but I’m always on it. Even in the centre of town I can I send my children i-messages and keep up to date with my social media accounts. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

Further along the street student Dave Josh is out for a stroll with his girlfriend, but taking the odd sneaky glance at his wifi-connected phone.

Dave says: “I’m playing Pokemon Go, so internet access is essential. It’s fantastic Chesham has such a forward looking network right here in the high street. This isn’t the most exciting place to live, but at least we’re leading the field in something.”

Always pushing forwad

Thanks to the network we installed in Chesham, we are prepared for the challenge of taking “internet anywhere” nationwide. However, just getting customers online isn’t the end of the road.

As he packs up for the day, Simon says: “We’re always pushing forward, so we are already looking at how we can provide additional services through wifi. Localised advertising is one option, whereby users would receive ads tailored to where they are located. This could be popular for local businesses. Analytics and movement tracking is another option, as you can chart a device’s route through the wifi zone. If it’s disruptive, you can rest assured we’ll try it.”

And to think it all started with a smart pavement. In Chesham.

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