WiFi on The Rocks

Free high-speed Internet expected to promote Sydney as a tourist destination

An 802.11g network has been launched at the Sydney Rocks area to provide free high-speed wireless Internet access to the public. Initiated and funded by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA), The Rocks' Wi-Fi hotspot is expected to bring the city technologically in line with major tourist destinations around the world.

The service is accessible indoors and outdoors within the region between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay. Users log on to the network from any Wi-Fi enabled device simply by selecting the network on the device, and registering their details via a Web browser.

Users are limited to 30 minutes of usage on the network at a time, and access to a network which has a capacity of speeds of up to 54Mbps. The service, offered through iBurst mobile broadband provider, Chili Internet Solutions, employs a distributed architecture with five mobile access points, with bandwidth shared equally among all users.

During the three month period from the launch of The Rocks Hotspot on 27 July to 31 October, the SHFA and Chili have registered 860 hours of usage by about 1,000 users. While Chili's Business Development Manager, Matthew Blayney, admits that this is a relatively small number of users, he notes that it has been increasing steadily.

"On an average day," he said, "you may see between 10 and 20 users on the network.

"The number of people that are using it is on the smaller scale at the moment, but it is ramping up, obviously, as people are becoming aware that it's available. The main thing is really to tell people that it is available because a majority of the time, people aren't accustomed to having free WiFi available."

The network is currently able to support a maximum of 500 users at any one time, Blayney said, but as it has been designed to be scalable, it can be updated easily to accommodate more users when necessary.

But rolling out the network wasn't a walk in the park. Because it employs the popular 802.11 spectrum, it competes with many other wireless networks operating in the same space. To avoid excessively interference, "a lot of fine tuning" was undertaken by Chili to ensure that the channel that The Rocks' Hotspot operated on was least contended as possible.

Blayney said that the network does not have any major restrictions with downloading files, although Chili is able to block access to FTP (File Transfer Protocol) programs and Web sites from the core network if necessary. Also, as users on the network are only enabled to see the Internet, and not other users, Blayney said that he does not foresee many problems on the security front.

"Being a public hotspot, there isn't really a security perspective," he said. "It is a fairly open network; we don't enforce any sort of hard and fast security measures for people downloading certain things."

"Under our normal ISP policies and guidelines, we limit access to malware, pornographic and other similar sites, wherever possible."

According to Dominique La Bouchardiere, Comporate Affairs Coordinator of SHFA, Chili was selected to provide The Rocks' Hotspot service for its quality of service and competitive pricing.

The service is expected to appeal to travellers, students, business people and the local community as it will allow them to surf the Web, e-mail, play games, and check up on activities in the area amongst one of Sydney's most historic areas.

"Internet access is an integral part of many people's daily lives and free Wi-Fi is in high demand among all of these groups," La Bouchardiere said. "It [The Rocks' Hotspot] will help attract more visitors to The Rocks and encourage business growth, as people will have yet another reason to visit and stay in this unique destination."

The SHFA is currently considering providing a similar service in Darling Harbour.

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