Melbourne activates free Wi-Fi network across CBD

Melbourne, Ballarat, and Bendigo citizens and visitors can now receive access to free Wi-Fi under a joint project between the Victorian government and TPG.

Australia's largest free public Wi-Fi network has been officially launched in Melbourne under the AU$11 million Victoria Free Wi-Fi project, with the network being managed by telecommunications provider TPG.

The first access points have been activated at all train stations within the Melbourne CBD, and at Bourke Street Mall, Queen Victoria Market, and South Wharf Promenade at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

All access points for VicFreeWiFi, which was labelled "unparalleled" by the state government, will be activated as of the end of the year. Once it is fully operational, the wireless network will provide coverage to an area of 600,000 square metres, making it the largest free public Wi-Fi network in the country.

The network will run for five years, with customers able to download up to 250MB per device per day without the requirement for logins or advertising.

"Victoria is the country's home of innovation and technology; we really do have the best of everything, not only in Melbourne but our regional cities as well," Victorian Minister for Small Business, Innovation, and Trade Philip Dalidakis said.

"Whether visitors are coming into town to go shopping, eat in Melbourne's famous laneways, or head to the AFL Grand Final this long weekend, they'll all be able to access and enjoy the fastest free Wi-Fi in the country."

A pilot of the free Wi-Fi service has been operational across Ballarat and Bendigo since the end of last year, recording 1 million sessions within nine months.

The Victorian government added that the network could be used in the event of an emergency by state and federal disaster response teams, as well as for smart city projects.

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The dark blue dots mark out future Wi-Fi access points, while the light blue dots denote active access points.

(Image: Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

The original deal to roll out a new Wi-Fi network using 1,000 access points across Melbourne, Bendigo, and Ballarat was signed between the Coalition government and iiNet back in 2014, just prior to the election of the Labor government.

iiNet beat out 33 other vendors that registered for the expression of interest; however, TPG took over management of the Melbourne Wi-Fi project when it acquired iiNet just over a year ago.

Similarly, iiNet reached an agreement with the Australian Capital Territory in May 2014 to roll out a AU$4 million Wi-Fi network across Canberra using more than 700 Cisco wireless access points.

Following suit, the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia in July last year began requesting tenders from internet service providers to supply free Wi-Fi on 1,430 buses, 56 three-car trains, 48 two-car trains, and two ferries in Perth.

Adelaide was the first Australian capital city to launch a free Wi-Fi network back in early 2014, after announcing it in November 2012, with iiNet providing coverage across the CBD with 200 Cisco access points. As of October 2014, there were already 90,000 unique users.

In addition, the South Australian government circumvented the National Broadband Network (NBN) by setting aside more than AU$4 million in its state budget in June to use an existing fibre-optic network jointly owned by the state government and universities in order to provide up to 10Gbps broadband network for Adelaide businesses.

Meanwhile, the New South Wales government scrapped plans for a free Wi-Fi network in Sydney back in May 2008, citing high costs.

The federal government also plans to provide free Wi-Fi for remote Indigenous communities across Australia by 2017, after undertaking trials since 2010 with 300 remote areas receiving free Wi-Fi via satellite community telephones.

Mobile and broadband customers of incumbent telecommunications provider Telstra can also use the Telstra Air WiFi network across the country, which now has over 500,000 hotspots nationally, including more than 4,500 public hotspots. Over 1.1 million customers had activated to use the Telstra Air network as of June 30.

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