NSW calls for free Wi-Fi builders

update The New South Wales government has called for expressions of interest (EOI) from industry groups to build, own and operate its planned free Wi-Fi broadband network.The network announced by the state's Premier Morris Iemma in late November is slated to cover the Sydney and North Sydney central business districts, in addition to selected areas of Gosford, Liverpool, Newcastle, Parramatta, Penrith and Wollongong.

update The New South Wales government has called for expressions of interest (EOI) from industry groups to build, own and operate its planned free Wi-Fi broadband network.

The network announced by the state's Premier Morris Iemma in late November is slated to cover the Sydney and North Sydney central business districts, in addition to selected areas of Gosford, Liverpool, Newcastle, Parramatta, Penrith and Wollongong.

The state has given the local industry until 28 February to register their interest in building and operating the network. According to the EOI documents released by the government this morning, the network will offer several different levels of service to users.

"It is expected that respondents will be able to offer a free community-level service, with the option of adding a range of commercial-level user pays premium services," the documents stated. "The government acknowledges that some restrictions may apply to the community level service and expects that these will be clearly identified."

The state also said there were two main alternatives to ensure some free services would be offered -- "advertising support or commercial sponsorship of services that may be limited in access speed and download quota".

Although the Wi-Fi network is expected to be based on the 802.11a/b/g family of wireless standards which typically come built-in to modern laptops and many mobile phones, NSW has also asked the industry to keep the next-generation WiMAX protocol in mind.

"Currently the focus is on Wi-Fi," wrote the state. "It is also known that WiMAX is emerging as a complementary technology and that future client devices will be both Wi-Fi and WiMAX enabled."

Users will be required to register before they gain access to Wi-Fi services under the planned network, following a formula used by some other free Wi-Fi hotspot providers such as hotels. "All services, including basic services, are to request users to register for the service and agree to a set of terms and conditions for use," the EOI documents said.

The new network is expected to provide minimum services encompassing e-mail and Web browsing, but may also provide sufficient bandwidth for virtual private network (VPN) tunnelling, instant messaging, Internet telephony (Voice over Internet Protocol) and video conferencing.

Undercutting industry options?
NSW's move comes at a time when the amount of wireless broadband options offered Down Under is rapidly increasing -- and some existing services are free or very inexpensive.

"This EOI is aimed at complementing, not substituting or competing with, the activities of private companies, and through this EOI, the government is seeking to identify the best role it can play in supporting and acknowledging this initiative," the EOI documents stated.

Although the EOI particularly mentions the needs of tourists and businesses for a free Wi-Fi service, the state government may also increasingly use the planned service.

"It is anticipated that government will make increasing use of wireless broadband systems for its own purposes, the range and type of which are already under investigation," wrote the state.

Agencies already use or are interested in using such systems for:

  • "Emergency services dispatch and messaging
  • Sending and receiving video from emergency services officers in the field
  • Filing reports electronically from site inspections
  • Tracking and providing real-time information on the location of buses and trains
  • Providing access to resources for students and other researchers."

Detailed potential coverage maps for the proposed network are available through the NSW state tendering Web site.

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