Support costs set to cripple NSW government's free wireless network

Expressions of interest put on hold

Plans by the NSW government to introduce a free wireless network early next year won't even get off the ground, according to experts, who claim it will be crippled by support costs and legislative problems.

The network, the NSW government's free wireless network, planned for 2008, is expected to provide free Internet access in major CBD areas in Sydney, North Sydney, Gosford, Liverpool, Newcastle, Penrith, Parramatta, and Wollongong, with ISPs encouraged to expand the service into other regions.

However, the state government has confirmed the call for "expressions of interest" which began early this year has been put on hold to ensure the 15 submissions that have been received can be properly assessed.

"The recommendations of the assessment panel are presently being considered and an announcement is expected by the end of September," the spokesperson said.

"Discussions are underway with various authorities to facilitate the next phase of the project, which involves designing and constructing the networks.

"The overall timing of the project remains on track to rollout the first of the services early next year," the spokesperson said.

"The free wireless model with ubiquitous access has been tried in the US and Europe and has failed miserably because of the tremendous infrastructure and commercial costs"

George Kaloudis - MyKP

Computerworld understands the government is struggling to decide on the best framework for the network with former NSW government CIO Paul Edgecombe claiming a model funded by advertising could not be discounted.

The real problem is the cost of overheads for user administration, specifically crerating, assigning and supporting unique user identities, with experts warning it will create a "financial blowout".

Under the Telecommunications (Interception) Bill, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must supply user identifiable information such as IP and MAC addresses to law enforcement.

Scott Sinclair, technical manager at the University of Queensland's ISP UQconnect, said that various requirements make free wireless networks untenable, mainly because of the overheads associated with installing and administering authentication policies.

"The infrastructure and authentication protocols [required to create user identities] are an overwhelming burden on networks [and] I can't ever see any large-scale free wireless network taking off," he said.

"Most providers are simply not willing to take on the associated risks of un-authenticated network access."

Sinclair said the university's commercial ISP UQconnect, provides wireless Internet to 60,000 university staff, students and visitors. It runs a separate network for staff and students and sells access to its wireless network for visitors who are required to supply credit card or a driver's license for identification.

He said the company dropped plans for a free wireless network outside of university grounds because of the need to create individual accounts.

The biggest problem, according to Sinclair, was assigning identities unique to the individual by default, such as a drivers license numbers to reduce the administrative burden of deploying new accounts.

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