Updated: iiNet, ACT govt spend $4M providing free Wi-Fi to Canberrans

Announcement follows Telstra unveiling of national Wi-Fi network

King O'Malley's Irish Pub in Canberra will soon be adding free Wi-Fi to the menu. Credit: King O'Malley's

King O'Malley's Irish Pub in Canberra will soon be adding free Wi-Fi to the menu. Credit: King O'Malley's

Canberra residents and businesses are seeing their public Wi-Fi options growing, with the Australia Capital Territory (ACT) government and iiNet partnering to deploy more than 700 Cisco wireless access points that cover 12 business districts across the city in a $4 million project.

The network, to be called CBRfree, will be free to use for anyone, iiNet said.

People from Canberra will also soon have access to a public Wi-Fi network from Telstra. The telco announced last week that it is building a national Wi-Fi network that will be free to its fixed broadband customers and available for a fee to other Australians.

The goal of the Telstra network is to provide access to 2 million Wi-Fi hotspots around Australia in five years, including Telstra broadband customers who opt to share their connection.

Under the iiNet ACT plan, iiNet will deploy more than 300 Cisco outdoor wireless access points in high traffic areas. The devices will be connected to iiNet’s fibre and VDSL2 broadband network running beneath Canberra streets.

It follows iiNet’s successful rollout of Wi-Fi services to residents across Adelaide last year.

The first stage of the CBRfree rollout will take place in the Civic neighbourhood and will be finished by October this year, iiNet said. Other commercial and tourist areas in Canberra will be finished by June 2015, it said.

Another 400 routers will be deployed inside businesses throughout the city. King O’Malley’s Irish Pub is one of the first businesses to participate, iiNet said.

In addition, iiNet said it will commence a 12-month mobile Wi-Fi trial on five Acton Canberra buses.

Greg Bader, chief business officer, iiNet, told Computerworld that the telco’s customers have been asking about strategies to augment the high cost of 4G services and this provides customers with a valuable free internet service.

He said the telco was talking to state governments in Victoria, NSW, and Queensland to roll out similar services in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

“They [these state governments] are all in various stages of putting their strategies together and some are ready to engage,” he said. The Victorian government has already released a tender for a Wi-Fi service provider.

He added that iiNet was looking to re-engage with City of Perth in Western Australia although this council was already providing WiFi services to residents.

The Canberra network is offering speeds of well over 10Mbit/s and 90 per cent of the locations can expect speeds of at least 2Mbit/s, Bader said.

Bader said there are data limits, but iiNet will look at how much traffic people are using and then a set a bar that is multiple times higher than that.

“For the vast majority, 95 per cent of people, there will never be a limit," he said.

He admitted that there is a risk that WiFi services could cannibalise iiNet’s customer base due to some cross-over in services but WiFi is generally seen as complementary to other internet services.

“We are targeting coverage in public spaces, shops, pubs, clubs, and places where people gather,” he said. “Places where we are building are not necessarily places where people live and consume their internet at night,” he said.

Bader said free Wi-Fi access is a critical part of the infrastructure of modern cities and increasingly, cities across the world are building public wireless networks, with the most successful providing simple and free access for anyone.

King O’Malley’s managing director Peter Barclay said he expects free wireless Internet access will be good for business.

“We’re very excited about this initiative because it puts Canberra right at the cutting edge. “When I was in the US last year, I found free Wi-Fi everywhere, from galleries to cafes, which made keeping in touch and running my business very easy to do. I think this free Wi-Fi network will make life easy for people checking sites like Facebook and Instagram and doing business generally. It’ll be great for everyone from residents and students to international visitors.”

Read more: David Buckingham new iiNet boss

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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