Melbourne commuters are finally seeing the rollout of a free, ad-supported Wi-Fi network at the city’s central hub, Flinders St Station, after the project was announced back in February.
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The service is provided by mid-tier Victorian ISP Netbay, though the technical details of the rollout are shrouded in mystery. The promotion promises speeds “10-15 times faster than 3G”, though how they hope to deal with crushing contention in peak hour is left unsaid. What’s also not mentioned is which 3G network this is being compared to – Virgin caps speeds to about 3Mbps, whereas Telstra’s 3G network can run to 40Mbps in optimal conditions.
Metro Trains will be offering the service without a password, to operate on the concourse and on all 15 platforms. The service will be supported by ads, delivered by GoConnect, who tried in vain in the early 2000’s to offer a free ad-supported internet service.
Flinders St is now the largest central travel hub in Australia to offer free Wi-Fi to such a broad coverage area, expected to service as many as 350,000 people a day (making it bigger than most exchange areas). The practice is common in many major cities, including Paris, Tokyo, London and New York.
Big firms have jumped on for the advertising, including Telstra, Nissan, Kia and Just Jeans. The City of Melbourne will also take up advertising space, likely to be used to promote big events in the city and to also offer advice for travelers.
If nothing else, Free Wi-Fi at such a busy interconnection point might at least offer a form of ‘load-shedding’, encouraging users with slow or low-data plans to move to Wi-Fi, and freeing up bandwidth on Telstra, Optus and Vodafone 3G networks.