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iiNet strikes deal for Australia’s 'largest' free WiFi network

iiNet has announced it will build what it claims is the largest free WiFi network in Australia, with the company joining forces with the ACT government to blanket 12 Canberra business districts with over 700 Cisco wireless access points.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

Canberra is set to go wireless, with iiNet reaching an agreement with the ACT government to blanket at least 12 of Canberra's business districts with over 700 Cisco wireless access points.

According to iiNet, the proposed network is set to be the largest free WiFi network in Australia, with the ACT government working in partnership with the company to rollout the "CBRfree" public wireless network.

iiNet plans to complete the first stage of the rollout, centred on Civic, by October, with the remaining areas covering the commercial centres of Belconnen, Dickson, Woden, Tuggeranong, Bruce, Manuka-Kingston, Gungahlin, Weston Creek, along with the tourist precincts of Parkes, the foreshore and Commonwealth Park areas, to be finished by June 2015.

As part of the partnership, iiNet will deploy more than 300 Cisco outdoor wireless access points in high traffic areas, with the devices to be connected to iiNet's fibre and VDSL2 broadband network, which runs beneath Canberra streets.

The company said it would further extend the public network by installing an additional 400 Cisco access points within businesses across the city.

iiNet's contract also includes a 12-month mobile WiFi trial on five Acton Canberra buses. However, the "Free Bus" service will be tested with passengers before a full rollout is considered.

According to iiNet's chief business officer, Greg Bader, the rollout comes with a price tag of around AU$4 million, which will be jointly covered by iiNet and the ACT government. The contract is set to continue until five years after the completion of the rollout — six years from today's announcement.

"Both of us are funding it," Bader told ZDNet. "Both parties have their own interest. The ACT state government is keen on being active with the community and from our point of view, the state government and local councils have great infrastructure assets we can use for the deployment of the outdoor network."

Today's announcement follows the Perth-based telco's rollout of its AdelaideFree WiFi network, which now provides free wireless access to around 90 percent of the Adelaide CBD, according to iiNet.

"iiNet has shown its capabilities as Australia's leading provider of public wireless networks by deploying the AdelaideFree WiFi network during the past nine months," said iiNet's chief business officer, Greg Bader, at the network's launch in Canberra today. "An average of 200,000 different people use AdelaideFree, each month, while during peak periods, we see as many as 5000 people connected at any one time."

iiNet already claims hundreds of wireless hotspots across Australia, including regional airports in QLD and NT, and cafés, restaurants and bars in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

In its home state, Western Australia, it provides free WiFi at Perth Airport’s Terminal 2; the Perth Arena; and aboard a fleet of 100 London Taxis, which roam the streets of Perth.

iiNet's free WiFi network rollout announcement comes only days after Telstra revealed it would launch a AU$100 million national public WiFi network, which will see the company deploy an estimated two million WiFi hotspots over the next four years.

The Testra network, which will launch in early 2015, will see the company initially rollout 8000 hotspots across the country, with hopes to get approximately two million new Fon-enabled modems in the homes of its fixed line customers, who can share their connection as part of the public network.

While Telstra's proposed public WiFi rollout is much larger than iiNet’s Canberra plans, the Telstra network will not be free for everybody. Existing Telstra fixed-line customers will be granted free access, while non-customers will be required to pay a small daily fee to connect.

For Bader, the Telstra public WiFi model is likely to prove problematic due to its heavy reliance on sharing customers' home WiFi networks — a model that he said iiNet tried years ago, but abandoned.

"A few years ago we used to do this," said Bader. "We found it missed the point a little. Customers were not comfortable sharing their home WiFi with strangers, and a lot of people don't have full WiFi coverage in their house, so if they want to share it, where does that stranger have to be, the front footpath? It fails the practicality."

Bader indicated that iiNet may eventually also work towards a partnership agreement with the WA government to deploy a free WiFi network in and around Perth.

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