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City council moves to roll out “next generation” Adelaide Free WiFi

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Adelaide’s infamously slow free public WiFi network could be upgraded under a $1.8 million city council bid for a “high-performing and ubiquitous” new service powered by 10-Gigabit fibre.

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Touted as the “next generation Adelaide Free WiFi network”, the proposed new service could replace what is currently considered a cumbersome public network that ironically forces many to switch off their WiFi and instead use phone data when in the CBD and North Adelaide.

InDaily reported in 2018 that the current service, launched by the council in 2014 in partnership with the State Government and internet provider Internode, operated on an average download speed of 40 megabits per second and with an average upload speed of 27 megabits per second.

While those speeds are considered relatively fast, increasing interference from smartphones, the fact many people use public WiFi in transit and the distance between a user and an access point contribute to a poor user experience.

In the council’s 2020-21 draft budget papers, to be discussed by elected members tomorrow night, staff proposed spending $1.8 million over the next two years to fix the service.

The council would commission a Telco partner to construct around 300 to 400 WiFi access points – an increase from the approximate 200 points that currently operate in the city.

The new access points would be built out of the council’s existing 10-Gigabit fibre network and placed on council poles and buildings throughout the CBD and North Adelaide.

“A next generation Adelaide Free WiFi network will provide a high-performing and ubiquitous wireless broadband network throughout the City of Adelaide,” the budget papers state.

“The network provides critical digital infrastructure for connecting communities, citizens and businesses, and enables an enhanced digital experience throughout the city.”

The council’s growth director Ian Hill told InDaily WiFi technology had progressed “significantly” since the Adelaide Free network was first launched.

He did not say whether internet speeds would increase under the proposed new network, but it would use “the latest WiFi technology supported by a maintenance program to ensure the network remains optimal throughout its lifecycle”.

“We are expecting that it would take approximately 12 months to fully rollout and commission the next generation network. Some upgraded areas may be available sooner,” he said.

According to the budget papers, upgrading the Adelaide Free WiFi network would “enhance” Adelaide’s image as one of the most liveable cities in Australia and across the globe.

The papers state the council could seek $3 million in Federal Government funding over seven years, as well as State Government assistance to deliver the service.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said she “most definitely” supported the proposal, describing it as “the perfect and most efficient way to leverage the City of Adelaide’s 10-Gig network”.

“(It) will provide a readily accessible connectivity for anyone coming to the City of Adelaide – noting that we had over 44,000 international students in 2019 and a visitor economy worth nearly $4 billion in Adelaide,” she said.

It comes as the council faces an expected operating deficit next year of $21 million, up from $19.3 million this year, following an economic hit from COVID-19.

To claw back spending, staff have recommended the council delay some projects including safety improvements around Chinatown, a main street masterplan and shop front upgrades.

The Adelaide Free WiFi upgrade is one of 16 “new strategic projects” listed in the draft budget papers for councillor consideration.

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