Telstra has just switched on the first 150 hotspots of its trial WiFi network, with a further 850 to follow before Christmas. The new service will be centred around the existing Pay-Phone system, with WiFi transmitters being located at, or close to those locations.
Today, users in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne will be able to trial the hotspots in some of those cities’ busiest places – Hyde Park in Sydney; King George Square in Brisbane; and Bourke St Mall in Melbourne.
This is part of what Telstra hopes will eventually be a nation-wide WiFi network that uses its users' own pre-existing home WiFi routers as its backbone. We went in to this in more detail when it was announced back in May, as well as the benefits it will mean for travellers who will also have access to the international FON network when in supported countries.
The basic gist of the program is that Telstra will itself eventually build over 8000 WiFi sites around the country, which will be supported by up to 2 million user-generated WiFi access points that Telstra users can opt-in to share.
Access to all 1000 trial network sites will be free before the further network officially launches early next year. The average speed of the trial network, as well as the eventual greater one, is intended to be around 2Mbps.
You can find your nearest hotspot at Telstra.com/wifi. Eventually there will be an addition to the Telstra 24x7 app that lets you do this a little more easily.
So what's the point of all this?
2 megabits per second isn't exactly killer speed, especially on the heels of Telstra's 4GX network launch, which has been already clocked at over 100Mbps in real-world smartphone trials. Even Telstra 3G will reliably get you more than 2Mbps in many locations, so why even bother with such a slow WiFi network?
It's too slow for you to watch high-bandwidth content on, so you won't be doing anything heavy enough that it would have used up your cap over 3G/4G, and it's slower for the lightweight stuff like social media and browsing.
There are two driving forces that you may not have considered:
Congestion: Telstra is specifically focusing on areas with heavy foot traffic. As its consumer base increases, Telstra is going to need to do more to keep its 3G and 4G networks free-flowing. Encouraging people to use WiFi in populated areas moves some of that traffic from the mobile broadband networks on to the fixed-line network on which the WiFi points run.
Laptop and tablet use: there are plenty of devices that don't have 3G or 4G support. There are plenty more that do have it, but where it wouldn't be useful enough to justify paying for a separate wireless broadband plan, or even the $10 a month Telstra charges for data sharing. You could always turn your phone in to a WiFi hotspot, but that can use up a lot of data and is a serious drain on battery. Free access to internet on non-smartphone devices could be a big draw-card for a lot of users.