While the New South Wales state government embarks on a drawn out process to tech up its capital city, a privately-run initiative is already providing free wireless broadband to Canberra and the Gold Coast.
From November 2006, Darlinghurst, NSW-based Spin Internet has been offering its free service to metropolitan areas of the two cities. The service has been operating on iBurst's pre-existing mobile network, and provides users with 200MB of free data per month on speeds of up to 1Mbps.
According to Spin Internet's marketing manager, Bill McArthur, the service is mainly targeted at business people who want access to e-mail and a few Web sites while on the road or while visiting clients.
"We hope that they [business people] will be using the service when they're on the road," he said. "When they go back to the office, they will hopefully plug into the network and use that."
By offering the free service, the company hopes to grow its market presence while promoting the iBurst brand. The service will be funded entirely with revenue generated by Spin Internet's regular, paid-for services.
"Going back like, five or six years ago, the free ISPs were quite the rage and that's [advertising is] how they did it - when you logged in you had the built-in browser and had to look at the ads," McArthur said. "We're not going to do anything like that. We probably could, but that would be too cheesy, I think, right now."
While provision of the free service is initially expected to eat into Spin Internet's regular revenue, the company hopes to be able to attract some of its free customers to its regular paying plans that offer higher speeds and less restrictive data limits.
Public response to the service has so far been very positive, McArthur said, with current subscriptions "right where we [Spin Internet] want it".
"The risk of doing something like this is a lot of people could use it," he said, noting that a surge in popularity of the free service could potentially be very expensive for the company.
"We've committed to customers getting the service for free for basically as long as they want," he said, "but we hope that whatever that costs us, we'll make up for by getting new customers and expanding the brand a little bit."
To log on to the free service, customers are required to own an iBurst modem which costs $259.95, in addition to paying an initial set-up fee of $149.95. Excess downloads beyond the 200MB limit are charged at $0.22 per megabyte, a price that Spin Internet intends to keep high so as to encourage heavier users to move on to paying plans.