Telstra has retrofitted its old payphones with Wi-Fi hotspots, and hooked up new hotspots in shopping centres, cafes, sporting stadiums and train stations, to build the largest Wi-Fi network in the country. It’s being built for Telstra’s home broadband customers to use when they’re out and about, it’s called Air, and it’ll switch on next Tuesday.
Telstra Air is the new name for what was a year ago called Wi-Fi Nation, but that existing mesh of thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots in old payphones and cafes is being supplemented by new deals with shopping centres, large sporting stadiums and public transport hubs to build out and expand the Air network to cover a larger area of Australia’s metropolitan areas.
250 cities and towns across Australia will be part of the Telstra Air Wi-Fi network when it’s officially switched on next Tuesday, with “thousands” of hotspots in popular locations. Hundreds of new locations will be added in coming months after Telstra completes deals with different local governments, and it’s likely the network will continue to expand with more deals in the future.
Telstra also has 1.1 million customers with Wi-Fi modems able to broadcast a secondary network to be used for Telstra Air — apart from the infrastructure Wi-Fi hotspots, this will be the other crucial half of the network. Every new Telstra home broadband modem sold from Tuesday, too, will be automatically enabled for Air. Crucially, though, Telstra Air will be an opt-in service and your modem will not automatically broadcast Air.
Telstra’s group managing director of consumer and products is bullish about Air’s growth potential once it’s up and running, saying the company “expect[s] it will grow rapidly reaching thousands of neighbourhoods and millions of people across the country over the next five years.” Since Telstra has partnered up with Fon to create the Air Wi-Fi network, Telstra home broadband customers will also be able to access any of the 15 million Fon Wi-Fi hotspots when they travel overseas to 18 countries including the UK, Spain, Brazil, France, Japan and Turkey.
The backbone of Telstra Air, though, is equally reliant on the company’s home broadband customers themselves — especially for that “neighbourhood” coverage where existing Wi-Fi-enabled payphones and infrastructure Air Wi-Fi hotspots don’t already exist. To access the Air network for free, Telstra home broadband customers will be restricted to download quotas drawn from their home account’s allowance, and will also be required to share their own home broadband as a Telstra Air hotspot — the same concept as Fon in Europe, the world’s largest Wi-Fi sharing network and Telstra’s partner in creating Air — using one of Telstra’s Gateway Max home broadband modem routers.
When they sign up for Telstra Air, a Telstra home broadband user’s home Wi-Fi network will be split into two, with one frequency band re-broadcast as a Telstra Air hotspot and with bandwidth available to any other Air customer that might want to use it. So, to have the ability to use a Telstra Air hotspot when you’re not at home, you’ll have to be comfortable with sharing a “small portion” of your home Internet connection publicly. This usage, of course, will come from the Air user’s quota and not the home broadband owner’s allowance, and the separate Wi-Fi network should be completely isolated from the user’s home Wi-Fi for extra security.
Four Telstra Gateway modems already support the Telstra Air network — they’ve had over-the-air software updates to enable the additional Wi-Fi networks in the background. Every Telstra modem sold in the future, too, will support the creation of Air networks through secondary Wi-Fi frequencies.
If you’re not already a Telstra Air customer — that is, if you don’t have Telstra Home Broadband on a compatible plan, if you’re only a Telstra mobile customer, or not a customer at all — you’ll be able to purchase 1-hour, 1-day and 5-day passes for $6.60, $10 and $23 respectively.
The Telstra Air app that will allow access to the network on smartphones and tablets will show the listed location of any users’ nearby Air hotspots on a map — these will only be the infrastructure networks situated in Telstra’s own payphone and public areas. Suburban hotspots will not be listed on the Telstra Air app; instead a heatmap will be shown with the relative strength of Telstra Air and Fon Wi-Fi networks in any given area.
Public hotspots will have a high amount of bandwidth available for users to access through Air; home users will share less of their bandwidth — approximately 2Mbps according to Telstra. ADSL home broadband users will have a maximum of one Air user accessing their home router, while NBN and cable customers will have three. Telstra’s minimum line speed for customers to opt in to Air will be between 5 and 8Mbps, but this is subject to change.
Telstra applied for the “Telstra Air” trade mark in mid-December last year, expedited its application at the end of January, and was granted the trade mark in early May. The mark covers classes 9 and 38, for both the telecommunications network itself and for software that will allow users to connect to it. There’s also a Telstra CrowdSupport section for the Air network, but it’s not yet available to the public.
Telstra Air switches on next Tuesday, and will be accessed through a Telstra Air app for iOS and Android mobile devices as well as Windows and Mac laptops. New Telstra Collection home broadband packages are on the way from then, too, with “[the] most generous data allowance yet” for a Telstra home internet package, a bundled membership for Telstra Air, and the obligatory free six-month subscription to Foxtel’s Presto video-on-demand.