news The nation’s largest telco Telstra has flagged plans to utilise its own and customers’ infrastructure to create a giant national Wi-Fi network around Australia, in a move that comes just two years after the company shut down its existing Wi-Fi network with about 1,000 hotspots and goes against the clear Australian preference for 3G/4G mobile broadband access.
The rollout was announced today in Sydney by the telco’s chief executive, David Thodey, and will see the telco invest more than $1 million to increase connectivity in the places Australians live, work and visit including cafes, shops, sports grounds and transport hubs.
According to Telstra, the strategy aims to offer all Australians, irrespective of whether they are a Telstra customer or not, access to two million Wi-Fi hotspots across the nation within five years. The network, which is scheduled to launch early 2015, will also reach overseas allowing people to connect at more than 12 million international hotspots, as part of an exclusive deal recently concluded with global Wi-Fi provider Fon.
Thodey said the plan would usher in a new era of Wi-Fi in Australia which would help meet current data needs and deliver future capacity for the explosion of traffic expected to be delivered over Wi-Fi.
“Australians already have access to one of the world’s leading mobile networks offering fast, unparalleled coverage on the move,” he said in a statement. “Telstra’s new Wi-Fi network will broaden the choice of connection giving people a convenient way to get online using their portable devices when spending time at a hotspot. It will offer our customers the unique option to seamlessly use their home broadband allowance inside and outside the home.”
The news comes two years after Telstra shut down its existing Wi-Fi network, consisting of around 1,000 hotspots. At the time, the telco told iTNews: “Over time we’ve found that our customers prefer the convenience of taking their own internet connectivity with them through the use of mobile broadband.”
To create the new network Telstra will:
- Offer Telstra home broadband customers new gateways that allow them to securely share a portion of their bandwidth with other Telstra Wi-Fi customers. In exchange they can access their own home broadband allowance at Telstra hotspots across the nation.
- Build more than 8000 Wi-Fi hotspots around the country to bring Wi-Fi internet to community areas and social precincts as well as shopping strips, business centres and transport hubs.
- Work with thousands of small businesses to bring Telstra Wi-Fi to cafes, shops and waiting rooms – putting them on the map as a destination where customers can connect.
- Partner with councils, business enterprises and governments to bring Wi-Fi to parks, stadiums and public buildings and to help create smart cities.
- Provide customers who have compatible devices with seamless access to the combined Telstra Wi-Fi network wherever it’s available using an automatic log in.
“We want Australia to be a truly connected country and as part of our plan, we are keen to work in partnership with local councils and enterprises to grow our Wi-Fi network in Australia’s largest cities and regional centres,” Thodey said.
“The opportunities go beyond connecting people. The city-wide availability of Wi-Fi coupled with the growth in the internet of things can help us improve the way we live in cities. Town planning, sustainability, traffic management, maintenance, public safety and the provision of government services are just some of the challenges that can be tackled by connecting sensors and objects with networks. This is an incredible opportunity and we are already in discussions with a number of councils to make smart cities a reality.”
With the majority of portable device traffic now delivered over Wi-Fi in the home or via hotspots, Thodey said all Australians would stand to benefit from the network.
“Today more than 20 million devices are connected to the mobile internet in Australia . This investment helps us connect the next 20 million and create an environment where our customers can read the news over breakfast at home, upload photos to Facebook while waiting for a train, check email between meetings at a local cafe and load match scores at the big game at night – all over Telstra Wi-Fi.”
“The network will be built by Telstra, but brought to life, in part, by our customers and we’re really looking forward to watching it grow. It will be a living community, steadily growing; house by house, street by street, business by business leveraging the capacity we continue to add to our core fibre network, as well as the NBN as it is rolled out to customers.”
Australians will be able to access Telstra Wi-Fi in a number of ways: Telstra home broadband customers with a compatible gateway who join the Wi-Fi community can use their broadband allowance at no extra charge via domestic hotspots and connect to more than 12 million Fon-enabled hotspots globally.
Non Telstra customers and Telstra customers who have not joined the Wi-Fi community will be able to connect to Fon-enabled Telstra Wi-Fi hotspots for a small charge using day passes. The investment will enable partners to offer public Wi-Fi to patrons, visitors and communities. Over time Telstra Wi-Fi access will be offered to Telstra mobile-only customers.
A lot of the wording around this news is incredibly hyped (two million Wi-Fi hotspots?!), but what it really boils down to is that Telstra is building around 8,000 new Wi-Fi hotspots around Australia, while simultaneously attempting to turn its customers’ home ADSL/cable routers into a giant, semi-public Wi-Fi network similar to the international FON effort.
I have to say, personally I see the effort as a colossal and extremely pointless waste of time which Telstra’s customers and Australians in general will largely reject out of hand.
There is absolutely no doubt, as Telstra itself said just two years ago, that Australians prefer the convenience of taking their own Internet connectivity with them at all times via their smartphones, rather than connecting to Wi-Fi networks, with their highly variable performance. Secondly, I highly doubt that many Telstra customers will get involved in opening up their routers to the public to use for Wi-Fi access.
I am a Telstra HFC cable and 4G mobile customer, and have plenty of bandwidth to spare. However, there is absolutely no way I will be opening up my home router to semi-public Wi-Fi access. For starters, it’s a security risk allowing anyone to connect to your home network in any fashion. Secondly, I have no need for better mobile broadband access (Telstra’s 4G mobile broadband is already excellent), so I don’t need to connect to Wi-Fi networks on the road. Where is my incentive to share something I’m already paying for, when I don’t need anyone else to reciprocate? Telstra can go take a flying leap with this one, as far as this customer is concerned. Tell em they’re dreaming!
It’s possible that what Telstra is really attempting to do here is to alleviate the strain on its 3G/4G mobile networks, which can suffer from congestion at times, due to the huge number of additional customers it has taken on over the past several years (often refugees from Vodafone) as well as the massive growth in mobile data usage. And probably Telstra’s Wi-Fi strategy will have some impact there.
However, I suspect that this announcement will come to be known as the most over-hyped and pointless project of David Thodey’s career leading Telstra. Really, Telstra? A huge national FON-style Wi-Fi network? Is that really what you want to be announcing right now? Just two years after you shut your old Wi-Fi network down? Really?
Image credit: Telstra