South Australia's StreetWise Hot Zone

By Gerry Blackwell

February 04, 2003

Adelaide, Australia, lays plans for a ground-breaking, city-wide Wi-Fi network -- so far the only one of its kind in the world.

When people in the northern hemisphere think of Australia, high-tech probably doesn't spring to mind, nor is it likely they consider the city of Adelaide, located 400 miles west of Melbourne along the country's south coast.

Adelaide, capital of the state of South Australia and with a population of about one million, is now home to one of the boldest experiments yet in the deployment of Wi-Fi hot zones (a hotspot providing a "cloud" of coverage in a selected area or neighborhood). StreetWise, a project of m.Net Corporation Ltd., a consortium with public and private partners and funding, will turn this small mixed-economy city into a truly wireless community.

Virtually the whole city will be covered by the outdoor Wi-Fi network. "We think of it as more of a cold spot model," says Paul Daly, the company's director of strategic relationships. "There are going to be isolated areas where there's not coverage, rather than the other way around."

Two Adelaide-based consortium members -- AirNet Commercial Australia Ltd. and Agile Pty. Ltd., both broadband ISPs -- will build the network. They are committed to completing a "small test network" by the end of February. The whole city, including the one-square-mile downtown area, plus North Adelaide, a largely residential area about half that size, will be completed by the end of the year, Daly says.

The final cost has yet to be calculated. n.Net itself is contributing 70 access points that will be redeployed from a conference site, but it's not clear how many it will take in the end. One other unknown is the cost of secure enclosures for the access points, which will be mounted on traffic signal poles.

The project is well funded. Commonwealth (federal) and state governments have kicked in about $5.75 million between them. Private sector consortium members have invested twice that amount -- "in one way or another," Daly notes. Some, such as Cisco Australia, are contributing gear -- StreetWise will use Cisco Aironet access points.

Agile and AirNet, which will sell commercial Internet access services using the m.Net infrastructure, are also investing separately in their own infrastructure.

StreetWise is a multi-dimensional project. One of the primary objectives, Daly says, is to provide a test bed in which wireless application developers can build and test new applications. The consortium has already attracted a roster of 20 developers to its Gallery 4 program, with more to come.

In future phases of the project, m.Net also expects to be involved in the commercialization of some of those applications.

The company will provide developers a "network-agnostic" test bed. The consortium also owns a 3G mobile network built with UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) infrastructure equipment from France's Alcatel and employing portable video phones from Mitsubishi. The 3G network actually covers less of the city than the Wi-Fi network hot zone will.

In addition, commercial carriers are offering GSM GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and CDMA 1xRTT (single carrier radio transmission technology) "2.5G" services in Adelaide. "Our intention is that [Gallery 4 developers] should write from the start for a global [i.e. cross-network] market," Daly says.

The city itself, with its rich mix of different private and public sector activities, makes a great test bed from a marketing perspective. The Gallery 4 program aims to target six key application sectors -- education, health, tourism, transportation, entertainment and city business.

Some Gallery 4 applications have already been developed, at least in prototype, and others are under development. One of the most intriguing of those that will work best or only on the Wi-Fi network is Virtual Tourist, a location-based service for city visitors. It lets them use a Compaq iPaq Pocket PC or similar device as a mobile audio-video tour guide.

"A visitor could either have their own [iPaq] with them or get hold of one from their hotel," Daly speculates. "They'll be able to walk around the city following the maps and a path provided by the application showing how to get from one place to another. Then there'll be rich-media information -- video, audio, photographs -- as well as text about the various sites to help you understand their significance."

The prototype Virtual Tourist, which included themed tours for those interested in architectural, historical, botanical and sporting sites, was originally developed by an unnamed company for the 2002 World Congress on IT, held in Adelaide -- the same conference for which m.Net deployed the 70 Cisco access points.

Users carried a GPS (Global Positioning System) and Compaq iPaq. As they walked past a place of interest, the iPaq displayed information about it -- graphics and text only in this prototype version.

The application test bed supports the economic development objectives of government -- hence the public funding.

Part of the idea is to attract more high-tech businesses to South Australia and Adelaide in particular. The city boasts three universities, as well as dozens of specialist technology and biotechnology colleges, and thus a highly educated and technology-savvy population. U.S. firms such as Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and EDS are already there taking advantage of the city. Government wants to attract more.

Besides the application test bed and economic development objectives, StreetWise will also be a fully commercial network attracting mobile and fixed customers. Final plans, including retail pricing are nowhere near complete. m.Net itself will not set pricing for commercial services -- that will be up to Agile and AirNet.

"We'd like to think it will be fairly affordable," Daly says.

AirNet, a DSL provider, is already offering fixed wireless services to Adelaide customers not served by DSL -- for about $40 a month. Customers will not have to switch to Agile or AirNet, however. Other Adelaide ISPs will have access to the infrastructure, Daly says.

There will also be business opportunities for coffee shops and restaurants to connect to the m.Net infrastructure and extend wireless coverage into their premises. Daly expects Agile and AirNet will also market the services to offices in the city.

More and more city and regional governments are getting into the Wi-Fi hot spot/zone business, either directly as in the recent case of Long Beach, CA or indirectly as in the case of Pittsburgh, PA. Adelaide, Australia, however, is clearly the most ambitious to date, and the most highly organized.

So why isn't somebody in the U.S. doing something on this scale?

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