Queensland shire goes big on Wi-Fi

A plan to encourage small business development in Queensland's Redland Shire has led to the development of Australia's largest Wi-Fi network and created a potential competitive model for existing wireless broadband providers.The Redland Shire Council, located south of Brisbane, has begun deploying the Redland Business Accelerator (RBA), an online mentoring and incubation program for the 8,000 small businesses in the shire.

A plan to encourage small business development in Queensland's Redland Shire has led to the development of Australia's largest Wi-Fi network and created a potential competitive model for existing wireless broadband providers.

The Redland Shire Council, located south of Brisbane, has begun deploying the Redland Business Accelerator (RBA), an online mentoring and incubation program for the 8,000 small businesses in the shire.

A key element in that plan was the need to enable businesses to communicate easily using broadband technology. Much of the shire falls outside the distance limits imposed by ADSL, so an 802.11g-based network has been built which effectively covers the entire shire.

Wireless broadband networks have been deployed in a number of capital cities, but most rely on using rather than the more open 802.11 family of standards. Local officials believe the Wi-Fi network is the largest in Australia.

A variety of applications, including video conferencing and specialised collaboration tools developed by Australian company Creatop, are offered over the network, which is expected to be largely rolled out within the next fortnight. Subscribers will pay a monthly fee to access the incubator, but that will be determined by the business services required rather than broadband usage. Entry-level fees are around AU$160 a month, which is competitive with existing urban alternatives.

While there will be a number of public hotspots as part of the project, the main aim has been to ensure access is available everywhere, according to Les McDonald, director of Civic Solutions, which has deployed the network. "Our whole philosophy is anti-hotspot -- it's always a problem finding them," he said.

Total expenditure on the RBA to date has been around AU$1 million, according to Redland Shire chief executive officer Susan Rankin. The shire also hopes to draw on the resources of Intel, which has contributed sponsorship to the project, to promote the accelerator model in other Asian markets.

Angus Kidman travelled to Queensland as a guest of Intel.

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