INNOVATION

This Country Queensland Town Is Bringing Free Wi-Fi To The Outback

And six more places are following suit.

12/08/2017 7:41 PM AEST | Updated 12/08/2017 7:41 PM AEST
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Welcome to Winton, Queensland.

The small Queensland town of Winton is probably a place you've never heard of.

With a population of just under 1,000 people, it's located more than 850km (or about a nine-hour drive) west of Rockhampton and is bang in the middle of outback Queensland. It's known for having a Centre dedicated to 'Waltzing Matilda', an open-air cinema and the town's self-proclaimed "World's Largest Deckchair".

And now, Winton can add free public Wi-Fi to that list of attractions.

On Thursday, the QLD government confirmed it's throwing $15,000 behind plans to bring Winton, and the towns of six other Central-West Queensland Local Government Areas (LGAs) -- known collectively as the Remote Area And Planning Development (RAPAD) Board -- up to speed by installing free public Wi-Fi connections in places covering one-fifth of the state.

Winton is considered "stage one" of the roll-out, with the public connection switched on back in June.

It's acting as the litmus test for the entire system before the other RAPAD LGAs -- Barcaldine Regional Council, Barcoo Shire Council, Blackall Tambo Regional Council, Boulia Shire Council, Diamantina Shire Council and Longreach Regional Council -- all follow suit.

Supplied
The RAPAD wi-fi zone is a lot bigger than you think.

Queensland Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy, Leeanne Enoch said in a statement: "This is about driving opportunities and using the power of digital connectivity to tell the world about outback Queensland.

"Providing more opportunities to go online and do research on-the-go and share pictures and stories will be good for tourists and trade in small rural towns."

So what exactly does that mean for Winton?

HuffPost Australia spoke to Libby, the Accommodations Manager at the North Gregory Hotel -- one of the three pubs in the town -- who said phone and online connectivity in Winton has long been an issue for residents and tourists.

Telstra is the only provider that offers any form of phone reception in Winton, and while people have had access to private Wi-Fi connections, when Telstra fails so do the town's businesses. But that could now be a thing of the past with free public Wi-Fi.

"Down the main street [the public Wi-Fi connection is] pretty good, especially if you're in the shops or library or anywhere. It's really good for the people travelling through because we've only got [access to] the Telstra phone network," Libby said.

"Nowadays everybody's on their phones, especially with only having the one phone network which is a bit of a letdown for most of the travellers coming through.

"The number one complaint is not having phone connection, so it's definitely important for the tourism. For anybody local who doesn't have Wi-Fi, everybody goes to the library to access computers and to use it."

So, how does it work?

According to Deputy CEO of the Winton Shire Council Tony Beynon, the free Wi-Fi service depends on each LGA council's town connection and uses 'iBeacons' placed in public spaces and buildings to pinpoint individuals' devices, welcome them to the town and promote the services of local businesses.

"We weren't capturing proper information [via Wi-Fi] for us to cater for our tourists. The idea was that maybe we could set up an app whereby you get free Wi-Fi for visitors to the town while at the same time capturing information from those visitors on some other platform," he told HuffPost Australia.

"Each local business in the main street has a number of beacons that are linked to a portal hooked up to South Western Wireless Wi-Fi and people then download the app and login to [each LGA council's] Facebook."

Cathy Finch via Getty Images
The days without wi-fi in country Queensland towns may soon be over.

Beynon said the venture works for councils to understand the demographic information of tourists and residents via an app currently available on the Google Play Store (and soon on the Apple App Store), while also offering Wi-Fi to direct them to local businesses.

In short, that means that if you drive into Winton and have access to the app, you can connect to the public Wi-Fi service offered by Winton Shire Council, it will register that you're in-town when you log into the correct Facebook page and then you'll be sent offers for all the best services currently being provided there.

And then when you move onto the next location, let's say Longreach, the app will pick up when you're nearing the Longreach Regional Council's Wi-Fi zone and can let you know what's on offer there before you get there, without logging in again.

"It means that the businesses have access to travellers that they may not have had before," Beynon said.

"People can book motels ahead of time, it's another avenue for businesses to promote to travellers before they get to town and whilst in-town the tourists now have an ability to see what each business has to offer in the range of services and goods and meals."

A date is yet to have been set for the next roll-out stage of the network.

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