Telstra plans wireless broadband assault

Throwing its weight behind the increasingly popular wireless broadband movement, Telstra launched its first national Wi-Fi service in Sydney on Wednesday. The telco’s announcement comes on the back of the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s decision to commence trials of a standardised wireless roaming service in the Asia-Pacific region using services from four of its members, including Telstra.

Telstra Wireless Hotspots are now operating in 17 locations across the country, including Qantas Club lounges, Rydges Hotels and Resorts. Telstra is also finalising an agreement to roll-out hotspots in McDonalds restaurants, and will launch hotspots in Hilton Hotels shortly.

The Telstra hotspots are based on the 802.11b standard, also referred to as Wi-Fi, and offer users an average download speed of 1Mbps.

Telstra group managing director, consumer and marketing, Ted Pretty said the Telstra wireless service would be complementary to the telco’s fixed broadband products, and supplement voice and data services across its mobile networks.

“We’re concentrating on high brand, high volume locations,” he said. “We want to capture the key market for Wi-Fi activity.”

Access to Telstra’s new wireless service will be free of charge until 27 August. From then, users have the option of either paying for access to the service via their mobile phone bills (post-paid), or on a casual, pay-as-you-go basis.

Telstra mobile post-paid customers will be charged $5 for the first 15 minutes of use, with additional usage charged at 20 cents per minute. To log in, post-paid customers will need to use a fresh password for each wireless session, sent to them via a text SMS.

Customers who opt to pay for casual use by credit card upon entering a hotspot will also be charged $5 for the first minutes, then $3 for each 15-minute block thereafter.

All user login data will be secured using 128-bit encryption. In a bid to further prevent abuse of the user’s access, the telco will block all peer-to-peer traffic over the wireless service, Pretty said.

The launch of Telstra’s long-awaited wireless hotspot service coincided with several new initiatives from the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), each signalling the seriousness with which telcos are beginning to treat Wi-Fi services internationally.

As part of its plans to standardise global wireless services, the WBA announced it would begin pilot trials in China, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia of an international wireless roaming service. This will involve standardising operator login platforms to aid international travellers accessing a wireless service in a foreign country.

To help users find compatible hotspots, each WBA location will be identified by the alliance’s new brand logo.

WBA chairman and senior vice president of Singapore’s StarHub Interactive, Kyong Yu, said the logo, coupled with the new standardised login interface, will help to bring a consistent look and feel across all of its members’ wireless services.

Charges for accessing a wireless hotspot in another country will be determined by the local WBA operator in that country and charged either in local currency or US dollars, Yu said.

Alongside its service initiatives, the WBA also announced T-Mobile US and UK, as well as British Telecom, had recently signed up as members to the alliance.

The WBA was established in March 2003. Other current members include StarHub Singapore, Korea Telecom, Malaysia’s Maxis telecom and China Netcom.

According to Lu, the WBA now boasts of a combined hotspot coverage of 13,000 locations. The group plans to extend this to over 58,000 locations by the end of 2003.

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