AirNet, rival Agile Communications, Federally-sponsored wireless broadband group m.Net Corporation and Adelaide City Council formed the AAA consortium for the project -- named CitiLan -- which was launched in Adelaide today.
Peter Karidas, director of operations and co-founder of consortium member and internet infrastructure vendor AirNet, said the 802.11b-compliant WLAN network was believed to the first of its kind, offering the largest area of continuous wireless coverage in Australia via 40 to 50 Cisco access points.
“Generally, someone puts a hotspot in a cafe or something like that. We've rolled it out down the city streets and into the city mall and made it contiguous,” Karidas said.
Passersby with laptops or other devices that were wireless-enabled would be able to link to the network anywhere in the area covered, for example while walking along the street or waiting for a bus, he said.
Also, resellers and service providers such as ISPs would be able to purchase network access from the consortium to onsell to their own customers.
Karidas said the network was estimated to cost $500,000-$700,000. It included Cisco access points and switches, locally developed spread-spectrum antennae and cable, and would occupy three large, linked chunks of the central city's Rundle Mall area -– totalling several kilometres –- by the end of this year.
m.Net and Adelaide City Council provided the fibre-linked integration. Adelaide council, using monies from South Australia's Department of Business, Manufacturing and Trade, had sponsored the project, he said.
Karidis said Brisbane had a similar but smaller network in its city mall, covering “only a few 100 metres and only about 100 metres either side”.
For AirNet, the project is not expected to reap a large financial reward initially. Karidis said the project was unthinkable without the help of the consortium and without its revenue streams from its main business.
“It's not a pilot ... but we still think there will be 12 to 24 months before enough people start using it,” he said. “[And] a lot of hotspot operators don't have any other business.”
AirNet had been planning the project for four years and believed the market was nearly ready, due to the rapid takeup of devices such as PDAs and laptops in recent months, he added.
“The infrastructure cost has come down to a reasonable level, the ability to get on to the internet, be able to plug into a network wirelessly, the cost of handsets has come down, and a lot of people now have laptops or PDAs and that's the hardest part,” Karidis said.
AAA plans to take the idea into other states via collaboration with other city councils and is negotiating deals with major carriers soon to be announced, Karidis said.