Speeds ‘10-times’ faster than NBN
THESE are the first of a series of free and superfast Wi-Fi locations that are part of an ambitious plan to make the Gold Coast the country's best digitally connected city.
In an Australian first, council has built its own fibre network along the length of the light rail route capable of delivering internet speeds up to 10 times faster than the NBN and boasting enough data capacity to support 50,000 businesses.
From March, council will offer one of the fastest public Wi-Fi networks in Australia via strategically located nodes in Southport, Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach.
As shown in council mapping shared exclusively with the Bulletin, the three Wi-Fi hot spots will each stretch about a kilometre north-south and hundreds of metres westward from the coastal and Broadwater foreshores.
"The next investment will be spreading the signal through the city," said council digital city program manager Ian Hatton, whose goal is for the Gold Coast to have the country's fastest and cheapest internet services by 2021.
"The Mayor has asked us to prepare a business case for where to expand these free Wi-Fi networks after the Commonwealth Games, with the Health and Knowledge Precinct at Parklands and Coolangatta obvious choices.
"As we work along the light rail line, you'll start to get areas that almost connect and within a year to 18 months we hope to have uninterrupted service from Griffith University to Broadbeach and either side of the Gold Coast Highway."
To maximise its $5.5 million investment, Mayor Tom Tate said council had obtained a carrier licence to allow it to sell off bandwidth to other carriers.
"We're the only local government council in the country to do this (build a carrier-grade network of such scale)," he said.
"It's for our residents and visitors but commercially we will also generate a cashflow stream that will benefit our city and be reinvested into digital infrastructure.
"What we're doing is a game-changer for our city … people drive past a venue like Metricon Stadium and see a huge investment but this is more significant."
The fibre-optic cable, capable of speeds of 1 gigabit per second, runs from Helensvale to Broadbeach and has been fed through PVC pipes laid during construction of the light rail system to save costs.
Council has also leased an optic-fibre line from Broadbeach to Coolangatta, with plans to extend its own network south during future expansion of the light rail route.
Mr Hatton said the network would improve tourism by allowing visitors to share photos and videos of the city more easily.
"We've been given stats that show bad public Wi-Fi is one of the top four complaints from overseas visitors to Australia and that drives people to tell friends not to go there," he said.
Mr Tate said the NBN still had a role to play on the Gold Coast.
"Our system is 10 times faster but it's been designed to seamlessly integrate with the NBN," he said.
"The idea is to not have duplication but have them complement each other."
The fast Wi-Fi cannot come quickly enough for foreign tourists shocked by the slow speed of our broadband.
Gina Schinkel from Amsterdam said she was "very shocked" when she first logged on to Wi-Fi at her Gold Coast hostel.
"It was not what I expected from Australia," she said.
"I thought the internet would be very fast like other countries, but I was very shocked at how slow it was.
"And even when you do connect to it, it keeps dropping out and disconnecting all the time."
Ms Schinkel said the Gold Coast would benefit from taking Holland's lead of offering more free Wi-Fi hot spots - especially in time for the Commonwealth Games.
"In Holland, I don't even have data on my mobile phone because we have amazing Wi-Fi in public places like trains, buses, cafes, and obviously at work and home and things - we have free Wi-Fi everywhere.
"The Gold Coast needs to offer that so people can log on and save their mobile data."