Melbourne CBD to get free Wi-Fi



news The Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne today announced plans to source a provider from the private sector to provide free Wi-Fi access in the city’s central business district, despite the fact that Australia’s existing mobile broadband networks are already providing reliable wireless access, and despite the fact that similar projects have failed in other states.

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine together with the Minister for Technology Gordon Rich-Phillips and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle today announced Expressions of Interests (EOIs) to deliver free Public Wi-Fi in central Melbourne.

Napthine said the ‘Public Wi-Fi’ initiative aimed to create a consistent Wi-Fi experience, expanding broadband connectivity to boost productivity, service delivery and quality of life for residents and visitors. It would also help draw more businesses and entrepreneurs to Victoria, he said.

“As the first step, the initiative aims to pilot fast, reliable and free Wi-Fi services in central Melbourne, in and around publicly owned infrastructure, including public transport hubs and tourist attractions for the next three to five years,” Napthine said. “Providing free public Wi-Fi in the city is part of the State Government’s agenda to build a better Victoria. These networks will be delivered in partnership between the Government, the City of Melbourne and the private sector.

“We are encouraging innovative expressions of interest that will ensure a reliable, sustainable free service that is also filtered for prohibited and undesirable content. All responses will be assessed on their commercial viability with strong preference given to proposals where there is no ongoing cost to government, beyond any potential initial investment to establish the infrastructure. Government investment could include direct grants or in-kind contributions like advertising, sponsorship and priority access to public infrastructure and facilities.”

Doyle said that as the economy changes from a traditional manufacturing base to a knowledge base, tools like Wi-Fi become critical. “More free Wi-Fi in the city is great for residents, visitors and tourists,” Doyle said.

Rich-Phillips said the EOI process would provide the Victorian Government with a better understanding of the supplier market and available solutions as it develops a business model, leveraging public infrastructure to roll out more Public Wi-Fi networks across the State.

“The Public Wi-Fi initiative will support small businesses, improve the tourism experience, assist our education sector, and further strengthen Victoria as Australia’s leading technology state,” Rich-Phillips said. “The provision of free Wi-Fi at Flinders Street Station has been a success and we are looking to provide this amenity more broadly.”

Expressions of Interest are open from Wednesday 12 March to Thursday 17 April 2014. The Government expects to award contracts in mid-2014. This process is the first stage in a larger roll-out of public Wi-Fi.

The news comes despite the fact that other similar projects have failed over the years. In May 2008, for example, the NSW government scrapped two-year-old plans to offer free Wi-Fi in Sydney, citing spiralling costs and overseas failures for killing the project. Another factor has been the rapid development of mobile broadband networks in Australia, which usually offer superior speeds to public Wi-Fi services in Australia, combined with greater coverage and flexibility.

Some smaller, niche Wi-Fi projects have still gone ahead over the years, although it is unclear to what extent they are being utilised. For example, Sydney has deployed free Wi-Fi access to Sydney ferries. And the City of Parramatta in Sydney’s West has also deployed Wi-Fi in its region. In August 2013, ISP Internode announced a $1.5 million contract with the South Australian government to more than double the free wireless internet coverage available within the Adelaide CBD.

The evidence shows that free Wi-Fi networks set up by governments usually go unused, are costly, and merely duplicate services already better provided by the private sector. I have no idea why the Victorian Government is seeking to waste its money on such an initiative. We live in an era of ubiquitous and affordable mobile broadband coverage. Free Wi-Fi is no longer a necessary attribute of a major Australian city.

Image credit: Jonathan LaRocca, Creative Commons, Parliament of Victoria


  1. As you say, mobile broadband in Australia is excellent and anyone with a smartphone (which is pretty much everyone) can access it. So given this is such a “nice to have” but “not really necessary” project, why are they doing it, when surely there are many other pressing funding needs?

  2. It’s a great idea for tourists who often don’t have local data plans. Data roaming can be murder on the bank account!

  3. It DOES have useful application for tourists who want to avoid global roaming data fees. I really appreciated the free WiFi in New Zealand (can’t remember the city) when I was there a while back.

  4. As you pointed out City of Melbourne is involved with the government on this. From their point of view they will be conducting polling as to what they can do to attract people to the CBD area. I figure that tourists of both the personal and business type (Melbourne does have a lot of conventions) would put free wifi fairly high on the poll. One would hope that there was a sufficiently identified demand to warrant the cost but you never know.

  5. Renai, have you tried the free wi-fi service available in Adelaide? Its AMAZING, and its ADELAIDE. My goodness, Melbourne should have been here years ago!! How is it a bad thing for widespread free wifi across Melbourne to be available when the Government has indicated its not interested in covering the on-going costs?? “We live in an era of ubiquitous and affordable mobile broadband coverage. Free Wi-Fi is no longer a necessary attribute of a major Australian city.” YOU HAVE TO BE JOKING RIGHT? Certainly really cheap for tourists!

  6. Want good free Wi-Fi in the Melbourne CBD? Try the Westin Hotel on the corner of Collins and Swanston. Last time I was there, their wi-fi was completely free, no login screens, and very fast.

    Hopefully they haven’t changed it… ;)

  7. At least the coalition can use this free wifi as a part of their ‘multi-technology mix’, no need to deploy anything in the Melbourne CBD now.

  8. It is laughable to suggest that mobile broadband in the melbourne CBD is adequate. Heavy congestion almost renders it useless in peak periods. This was evidenced during the recent white-night festival, and is often experienced in underground train stations and alike. This great demand for ‘mobile broadband’ suggests that the WiFi will be used, especially by tourists. This is provided that the user experience isn’t hindered too much by logins and advertisements, which I suspect it will be. While this proposal may be 3 years too late, I don’t feel it is all bad, like the majority of the NEWS article suggests.

    • I have to agree that with Virgin Mobile I cannot load more than a text webpage at Spencer St Station or Etihad Arena.

  9. Like all other governments, this one lags behind the current IT landscape by as far as it pleases, depending on the financial costs, and the political angle, this can vary from anywhere between a few years to a decade.

  10. Any time I’m overseasim grateful for the near ubiquitous free WiFi in major world cities. This will be great for tourists (and should include the airport). It should also drive down costs for local subscribers by keeping the telcos a bit more honest and improve equality of access for those that can’t afford a hefty data plan.

  11. Renai, at the end of your article, your opinion / analysis is largely wrong.

    My company Tomizone has been doing this business for well over 8 years and we’ve seen pretty much every business model. Wi-Fi networks set up by governments are used very well so I’m curious as to where you got your evidence. Auckland Wi-Fi for instance achieves many thousands of users daily and many millions of minutes usage monthly which uses our systems. And the Sydney Ferry project has been running for well over four years with our Wi-Fi and again has many thousands of users daily – it’s sustainable and successful.

    In most cases, private industry will not capitalise citywide Wi-Fi projects and instead concentrate in providing great footprint in areas where the venue is happy to provide and pay for this type of Free Wi-Fi service. To say it’s a waste of money is a misnomer. For instance, Krispy Chops (above) would have used a number of Free Wi-Fi services provided by Private and Government sources in New Zealand – the Auckland Wi-Fi and Wellington Wi-Fi city projects are funded to expand coverage across the city which augment the initiatives about providing services to enhance lifestyles and align with their social and tourism goals. And it’s not that expensive to set up and run. So Krispy Chops then goes back home and would say to anyone that listens that “New Zealand has great Free Wi-Fi”. A golden reputation for Government and tourism.

    Mobile Broadband is certainly the default but in CBD areas, it’s congested and works “ok”. And Free Wi-Fi can be seen as a hassle to get on but you can be sure that vendors and providers have worked hard under the new WiSPR 2.0 standard etc. to make it a seamless Broadband Internet experience. You’ll see that becoming more of a standard soon.

    Wi-Fi will continue to be a vital amenity and I’m impressed with Premier Napthine’s push to push the Lord Mayor and his team to make it a reality.

  12. I suspect that the real aim is to appeal to tourists and travellers. I’ve been very grateful for free Wi-Fi when overseas. Its certainly attracted me into some places I wouldn’t otherwise have gone.
    While it has improved in recent times, CBD mobile broadband tends to be slow and congested.

  13. Free wifi is a great idea.

    Maybe next time I attend an event in the Melbourne CBD I will be able to use the internet, or make a VOIP phone call. I went to the fireworks in the CBD on the weekend and not only did I have no internet access, I couldn’t even get a mobile signal. Local wifi hot spots could have made it more bearable.

    The suggestion that 3G/4G is good in the CBD is completely wrong, it is heavily congested and cuts in and out all the time. When I go out for lunch I generally go to shops that have wifi access because getting a 3G signal is near impossible.

    3G/4G is ok when used outside busy times like lunch and peak travel times, but this is really only good for people not working during the day.

  14. Parramatta’s wifi is garbage. I’m there regularly and it’s hard to connect, extremely time limited and poor signal quality. No-one I know actually uses it.

  15. “The evidence shows that free Wi-Fi networks set up by governments usually go unused, are costly, and merely duplicate services already better provided by the private sector.”

    This stems from research from BecauseISaidSo? Have any source for that claim?

    Mate, just because you do not have need for free wifi, does not mean there are not numberless people who would hugely benefit from it.

  16. “We live in an era of ubiquitous and affordable mobile broadband coverage.” …

    “Affordable”? Pffttt …. speak for yourself. It is not affordable for *everyone* :p

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