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Telstra's national public Wi-Fi trial will be unsecured

Telstra's free trial of national Wi-Fi out to 1,000 sites by the end of this year will be on an unsecured public Wi-Fi network that will be less safe than the one the company ultimately brings in.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Telstra's trial of free Wi-Fi in a number of locations around Australia later this year will be more vulnerable to security risks than the company's planned paid-for Wi-Fi network launching next year.

The telecommunications giant announced some of the first of the 2 million hotspots sites as part of the company's five-year, AU$100 million investment in a national Wi-Fi network this morning, including frequent tourist or shopping destinations like Bondi Beach or Bourke Street Mall.

"It's to ensure we can give customers a sense what's coming next in the overall offering," Telstra's retail group executive Gordon Ballantyne told ZDNet.

"That's not just for Telstra customers; that's for all customers just so they can understand what we're doing [and] what we're building."

The Fon-backed Wi-Fi network will be accessible only by Telstra fixed-line customers that are members of the Wi-Fi community program, or non-Telstra customers who pay a "small fee" for the use of the network when it is launched in full next year.

Until then, however, Telstra is opening up the network free to everyone for the trial. This means that like many other public Wi-Fi networks, Telstra's public Wi-Fi network will leave users more vulnerable to having their personal information compromised than they would on a secured network that requires a login.

"The trials are as open-access as possible, so it will be a public Wi-Fi hotspot, and that's not as secure as other hotspots, or the Wi-Fi in your home with SSID etc," Ballantyne said.

"We just need to communicate that to customers. I think people are mostly familiar with when in a public area versus when at home doing secured transactions.

"In the initial phase, we want to make it as open and accessible to everyone, and that means making it as open as possible to everyone without having onerous logins and other things."

Ballantyne played down the excitement over the use of the ageing payphones as Wi-Fi hotspots, insisting that the hotspots only used the connection available at the payphone, and Telstra would essentially be using any connection it could as part of its national Wi-Fi network.

"It's important to say that the infrastructure we're building out is a mix of infrastructure. We're just using the payphone sites. We're not converting payphones, we're just using the sites because there is connectivity to those sites," he said.

"We're using our stores, we're using our exchanges, we'll be using other infrastructure as we see fit. Where there is a Telstra ADSL end, we can create a hotspot."

Ballantyne did not reveal the fee for non-Telstra customers, only stating that it would be "very competitive".

"We want to encourage people to use the service. I think we'll price accordingly to ensure the value of the service, but not limiting the access to the service."

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