Parramatta launches Australia’s first free 802.11ac Wi-Fi network

Residents and visitors in Parramatta, NSW will be able to surf the Internet for free at speeds up to 100Mbps with the launch of a new "5G" fixed wireless network using the super-fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard.

The outdoor network runs through Church Street, from Riverside Theatre to Westfield shopping centre, and also covers some parts of Macquarie Street and the Parramatta River area. Free Wi-Fi for the the city’s libraries was implemented earlier this year by the council and ParraConnect.

Using any Wi-Fi enabled device, users can access 30 minutes a day of free Internet, and for continuous access, can sign up to W3 Networks – the Parramatta-based company that is hosting the network.

The network is part of the city’s digital and wireless strategy that was developed in 2009 by ParraConnect, an advisory council made up of private and public sector stakeholders, including not-for-profit organisations.

Councillor and ParraConnect committee member, Paul Garrard, came up with the idea to build a network that would put Parramatta on the map and offer almost the same standard of connectivity seen in cities such as New York, Seoul and Barcelona.

“This is an event that the New South Wales government said couldn’t happen three years ago,” he said at the launch today.

“Three years ago they spent a million dollars doing a feasibility study that said we couldn’t do what we’re launching today. So it’s thanks to the capacity of the ParraConnect committee which is made up of a combination of community and business people who have come together to work on this.”

The person behind the deployment of the new network is Dustin Wilson, owner of W3 Networks, who offered to put in the infrastructure for free. Before owning the company and moving to Australia, Wilson had previously worked on rolling out the world’s first fixed wireless network across 26 cities in the United Kingdom 13 years ago where speeds were at most 1Mbps.

Speaking at the launch event, he said the Internet was like his “lifeline” to learning and education which partly motivated him to work with ParraConnect in building the free high-speed wireless network.

“As a young man I wasn’t much of a student, but the Internet leveled the playing field for me,” he said. “I remember one of my teachers once told me ‘you are going to become very, very successful or wind up in gaol’. The rich content and the ability to jump from one thought to another in seconds propelled me to enjoy learning for the first time.”

Wilson wouldn’t disclose the amount he spent on the network, but said “it costs thousands of dollars every month just to make sure that the speeds are available”.

In the next phase of the project, he plans to make bigger investments as the technology matures and will ramp up the speed, as well as continuing to improve the consistency of the signal. Wilson said his goal is to cover the entire city with the network over the next two to three years.

“It’s a whole new platform to what my current business model was so all new systems, etc. In fact, the equipment here today has not even been released to Australian consumers. It only arrived last Friday and we are still just getting it in operation.”

Wilson said he sees not only other councils creating similar networks but also the big mobile operators starting to utilise 802.11ac technology for mobile handoffs.

“Telstra, Optus and other big telecommunication companies spend a lot of money of 4G spectrum and in certain circumstances in areas with a lot of population such as stadiums, concerts halls this 5G Wi-Fi technology can be used to offload mobile phone signals so that you have more data available at the local level and people can get better services. I think that’s where it will go [in future].

“We don’t currently at this time have the ability to go from one access point to another without disconnecting and reconnecting. So it’s a fixed Wi-Fi, it’s not a mobile technology. The mobile element of 5G is coming and that’s software driven and it will happen."

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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