Unwired picked for Sydney free Wi-Fi scheme?

The NSW Department of Commerce has today come a step closer to selecting a provider to implement its plan to blanket Sydney's CBD with free Wi-Fi, with rumours surfacing that Unwired is now the leading contender.

The NSW Department of Commerce has today come a step closer to selecting a provider to implement its plan to blanket Sydney's CBD with free Wi-Fi, with rumours surfacing that Unwired is now the leading contender.

After opening up to expressions of interest in January, the NSW Department of Commerce has told ZDNet Australia in a statement today that "the evaluation of the 15 proposals received in response to the Expression of Interest is in its final stages".

The statement went on to say that "the NSW government expects to be in a position to make an announcement soon".

A report in the Australian Financial Review claimed earlier today that wireless service provider Unwired has confirmed a deal with the Department of Commerce to undertake a pilot of the Wi-Fi service.

"The details are up in the air at the moment," said Richard Vowles, Unwired's business development manager.

"The department like the model we've come up with and would like to talk further," said Vowles.

According to the NSW government, the plan was developed as a response to the "growing demand for more high-speed wireless access points and better coverage in major cities".

It is expected that the Sydney CBD, including North Sydney, will be the first area to be afforded access under the plan.

"It seems most likely that it will be Sydney," said Vowles, who would not give a timeframe as to when the network might be up and running.

As part of the tender, the government also expects that the chosen provider will establish access in a number of other areas, identified as "emerging commercial hubs" over the next 20 years. Other suggested locations include Parramatta, Penrith, Liverpool, Newcastle, Wollongong and Gosford.

Speculation of a deal between Unwired and the NSW government comes at a time of relative upheaval for both organisations.

Many of the state government's ICT initiatives have been disrupted over the past five months as it undertook a search for a new CIO.

The appointment of Emmanuel Rodriguez as the NSW government's new CIO was only announced yesterday.

At the same time, Unwired has been in the midst of a proposed AU$127 million acquisition by the Seven Network after a period which has seen the company's shares struggle to break the 49 cent mark.

"Unwired has been an underperformer," BBY analyst Mark McDonnell told ZDNet Australia recently. "Frankly, it might be at 48 or 49 cents now, but that is a 22 month high."

Brett Winterford contributed to this report.

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