Free city Wi-Fi important but imperfect

RMIT is set to lose its title as the biggest free Wi-Fi portal in Melbourne.

Melburnians will have free internet access in public parks, transport hubs and city landmarks by the end of the year. But in terms of reliability it mightn’t rival the RMIT network.

The public Wi-Fi trial is a joint enterprise as part of the “Build a Better Victoria” campaign between the Napthine government, City of Melbourne and the private sector.

Yesterday Premiere Dennis Napthine said, “The initiative aims to pilot fast, reliable and free Wi-Fi services in central Melbourne.”

And while it is a positive move, experts say trial users will experience a few hiccups along the way.

Dr Mark Gregory, Senior Lecturer at RMIT University in Network Engineering, said the initiative’s efficiency and consistency will depend on the number of people trying to access it at any one time.

“You’re talking about Wi-Fi in a very big built up area,” said Gregory.

“You will be able to do normal things like upload pictures, Skype, email and access social media.

“But there will be limitations to how it’s used because after all it is free Wi-Fi, it’s not golden rainbow Wi-Fi.”

In a statement yesterday Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said, “More free Wi-Fi in the city is great for residents, visitors and tourists.”

Despite its imperfections and her awfully slow experiences with public Wi-Fi, RMIT University communications student Clancy Holzgrefe thinks it’s important.

“I think it would be good for the amount of internet usage I use on my phone plan for a month. Which seems to be going up exponentially,” Holzgrefe said.

Public Wi-Fi is being looked into in Adelaide and has already been rolled out in Perth and other world cities such as Los Angeles.

So as the world’s most liveable city, Gregory said Melbourne is “very far behind the rest of the world”.

He says at the moment the city’s Wi-Fi is “disconnected and disjointed and the idea of this is to provide a homogenous, unified public network”.

This limited free Wi-Fi access will miss Melbourne’s city loop, as it continues

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to remain a black hole for internet and telephone access.

Gregory says this debate is 15 years old and “there’s no simple quick fix to this because everyone is looking for everyone else to pay”.

The free Wi-Fi initiative is in the first stage of a larger rollout across Melbourne and Victoria.


By Jordyn Butler


Picture via Flickr

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