Seven councils in rural Queensland have clubbed together to roll out a free public Wi-Fi network being dubbed the ‘Outback Telegraph’.
The councils said that once up and running it will be the largest single public Wi-Fi network in Australia by total council area and provide coverage to some of the most remote communities in the country.
The councils – Barcaldine Regional Council, Barcoo Shire Council, Blackall-Tambo Regional Council, Boulia Shire Council, Diamantina Shire Council, Longreach Regional Council and Winton Shire Council – which make up the Central West Queensland Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD), initially proposed the idea at the end of last year.
Winton Shire Council switched on the first section of the network in June, and last week the Queensland Government backed its expansion with $15,000 in funding.
Longreach, Barcaldine and Windorah will be the next areas to gain coverage.
Users connect to the network through the Outback Telegraph app, which will be available on Android and iOS in coming days. A single sign-on means travellers don’t have to re-enter their details when moving between areas of coverage, RAPAD said.
“It will be a magnet to people with mobile devices who are a long way from their family and friends and travelling around the countryside,” said Winton Mayor Butch Lenton. “Connectivity is essential to running businesses in rural Queensland, and for travellers, and I’m proud our council is pioneering a terrific project that is crossing new boundaries.”
The app also interacts with beacons – Bluetooth low energy devices – which will be placed around Winton, Barcaldine, Longreach and Blackall, to alert users to nearby businesses, and relevant coupons; and guide them around nature walks.
RAPAD said it will contract with a local company or group to provide advertising to those using free Wi-Fi, which would help cover some of investment.
The group will also fund a 'tourism data exchange' to distribute the data that users of the Wi-Fi network and app generate to the region’s tourism operators, to better understand their market and anticipated levels of demand.
“We can build stronger businesses with this data. Winton has a rich history that includes the Great Shearers’ Strike, Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Matilda, Qantas, and a dinosaur stampede, and also opal fields and a wide variety of animals and bird life in the area," Mayor Lenton added.
“Free Wi-Fi can help us share our stories, history and visitor experiences on social channels to entice more tourists and encourage them to stay longer once they’re here,” he said.
RAPAD said it hoped to hold a hackathon in the region to generate new ideas to leverage the network, app and beacons. In a separate project it is also planning to implement a Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) in the region and is about to commence a trial of base-stations.
“This is about driving opportunities and using the power of digital connectivity to tell the world about outback Queensland,” said Leeanne Enoch, Queensland’s minister for innovation, science and the digital economy.
“Providing more opportunities to go online and do research on-the-go and share pictures and stories will be good for tourists and trade in small rural towns,” she added.