Public Wi-Fi in Brisbane seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance in recent times, with the poster boy (in my opinion) being the free public Wi-Fi available at the State Library of Queensland. The Brisbane City Council has a project underway to roll out free Wi-Fi to selected areas, starting with some public parks, and key CBD locations, and in more recent times Telstra has announced the rebirth of its venerable (and largely redundant) public phone boxes as Wi-Fi hotspots (although we’re yet to learn more about the business model behind this).
The promise of free public Wi-Fi is a marvellous one, particularly given the rapid rate at which so many common services are heading online. Free public Wi-Fi would be a substantial boon not just for back packers and professional nomads, but for people of all persuasions.
Unfortunately, to date, the promise is outstripping the actual delivery of services. On a number of occasions I have tried to use the Brisbane City Council free Wi-Fi made available at Post Office Square in the CBD, and been sadly disappointed.
Signal strength was solid, and the process of connecting my laptop extremely quick and easy. All that was required was to select the “Council Wi-Fi” network from the list of available Wi-Fi networks, and then click on the “I Agree” button on the web page that automatically appears, to accept the standard conditions of use.
Unfortunately that’s where the dream run ended. Although my laptop was happily connected to Wi-Fi, for all intents and purposes it may as well have not been. The internet speed was barely better than back in dial-up days, and too slow to open pretty much any web page that I tried to access. My email did ultimately download, but only after a substantial wait.
Performance did improve at various times of day, but at best was only just usable for basic internet activities, and far from sufficient for any high bandwidth use such as multimedia, streaming, or voice/video calling.
It’s quite clear that the current system is simply overloaded and unable to cope with the demand being placed on it. This is particularly clear given that performance was at its worst when the streets and cafes were most crowded, and improved as people migrated off the public areas into their office buildings. That demand is outstripping supply is both a source of frustration, but also a source of encouragement that the service is so actively sought after by the target audience.
I’m a strong advocate of public Wi-Fi, but unfortunately the Brisbane City Council’s offering, as it stands today, is unusable. I’m quite certain that the answer is simply one of increasing the budget for this service, as large scale Wi-Fi deployments, although complex, are perfectly achievable. My hope is that the BCC continues to see the value in this service, and allocates sufficient funds (or finds sufficient private sponsors) to increase capacity and make the service the amazing enabler for Brisbane visitors and residents that it could be.