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26 November, 2014
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Strong signals: growing use of public Wi-Fi hotspots

By The Research and Analysis section

Man using laptop in outside area

Wi-Fi hotspots in Australia have become easier to access and more popular since Telstra and Optus launched their respective Wi-Fi hotspot services in Australia during 2003, a time when the availability of, and access to, Wi-Fi hotspots was limited.1,2 Technology and media observers lamented the lack of hotspots available throughout Australia—with only ‘spotty’ options available in capital cities in 2012, and a ‘barren’ Australian public Wi-Fi landscape in 2013 compared to overseas.3,4

But there’s some good news—ACMA research suggests this picture has changed a lot. Since 2009, Australians’ use of Wi-Fi hotspots has increased six-fold. Recent announcements by a number of local or state governments, as well as some carriers, to build large-scale public Wi-Fi networks in various cities suggest even greater availability is around the corner.

This researchacma snapshot presents the latest data on use of public Wi-Fi hotspots—publicly accessible wireless internet connections, offered free of charge or on a fee-for-service basis, to users with an internet-enabled Wi-Fi device. This snapshot is not about the use of Wi-Fi in the home.

The emergence and use of Wi-Fi hotspots is growing hand-in-hand with the ubiquity of portable and connected devices, and Australia’s increasing capacity and consumption of data.

Public Wi-Fi hotspots in this report may be:

Free and open

No charge to the user and no password required.

Free with conditions

No charge to the user but subject to the terms and conditions of the provider.

Free for customers

No charge for use of the Wi-Fi hotspot on the condition that the user has purchased a good/service from the provider. Providers may include airline lounges, cafes, hotels or telco hotspots (available to users of the network).


The user has paid a provider to access the Wi-Fi hotspot. Providers may include hotels or internet kiosks.

Unless otherwise stated, data in this snapshot is sourced from Roy Morgan Research.5

Use of Wi-Fi hotspots increases

In the 12 months to June 2014, our use of Wi-Fi hotspots grew 21 per cent and there are now over three million Australian internet users (aged 18 years and over) using Wi-Fi-hotspots to supplement their internet access services (Figure 1). In the five years to June 2014, use of Wi-Fi hotspots increased six-fold—in 2009, there were only 495,000 people going online via a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Figure 1 Growth in the use of Wi-Fi hotspots ('000)

Growth in the use of Wi-Fi hotspots (‘000)

Figure 1 (.csv) Growth in the use of Wi-Fi hotspots

Base: Internet users 18 years and over who have used a Wi-Fi hotspot in an average three month period to June (‘000).
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Why are Australians connecting to hotspots?

The growth in use of Wi-Fi hotspots is in line with the increased availability and use of portable devices to access the internet. At June 2014:

  • 70 per cent of adult Australians used mobile phones to access the internet—up eight percentage points in 12 months
  • 30 per cent of adult Australians used tablets to access the internet—up six percentage points in six months.6

These internet-enabled portable devices can give users a seamless online experience via a carrier’s mobile network as they move from one location to the next. So, with portable devices now offering increased functionality, why have Wi-Fi hotspots increased in use?

As well as being more available, Wi-Fi hotspots: 

  • provide an alternative internet connection to capped data allowances on 3G and 4G mobile plans
  • help international travelers to avoid international roaming charges—by making use of over-the-top (OTT) VoIP services or using Wi-Fi for data downloads rather than the available mobile network
  • give people with an internet-enabled portable device more opportunities to go online—for example, laptops and tablets that do not have 3G or 4G capabilities but have Wi-Fi functionality
  • draw on the now ubiquitous nature of Wi-Fi functionality available in most portable devices—in some cases, devices can alert users when they are in the vicinity of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Who uses Wi-Fi hotspots?

Users of Wi-Fi hotspots fall into three categories:

  • people who use Wi-Fi hotspots to complement other internet access locations (such as home, work, library, school)
  • people who use a Wi-Fi hotspot as their main location to access the internet
  • people who exclusively use Wi-Fi hotspots for their internet connection.

People who use Wi-Fi hotspots to complement other means of internet access come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. They generally reflect the broad profile of the average Australian internet user—coming from different age groups, employment status, education backgrounds, income brackets and geographic regions. However, some characteristics stand out when Wi-Fi hotspot users are compared to the average internet user. Wi-Fi hotspot users are more likely to be:

  • aged between 18 and 44—69 per cent
  • employed—74 per cent
  • tertiary educated—72 per cent
  • frequent internet users (going online more than once a day)—89 per cent (see Figure 2).

Compared with general internet users, Wi-Fi hotspot users are also more likely to:

  • use a mobile and/or tablet to access the internet—81 and 44 per cent respectively
  • own a smartphone—90 per cent
  • be ‘mobile-only’ (people with a mobile phone who live in a household without a fixed-line telephone)—35 per cent.

Figure 2 Comparing Wi-Fi hotspot users to general internet users, June 2014 

Comparing Wi-Fi hotspot users to general internet users, June 2014 

Figure 2 (.csv) Comparing Wi-Fi hotspot users to general internet users, June 2014

*Mobile-only users are people with a mobile phone who live in a household without a fixed-line telephone.
Base: Internet users—percentage of people 18 years and over who used the internet in an average three-month period;
Wi-Fi hotspot users—percentage of internet users 18 years and over who used a Wi-Fi hotspot in an average three-month period.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Characteristics that appear to have no bearing on being a Wi-Fi hotspot user include gender, personal income or geographic location—in these respects, Wi-Fi hotspot users are on par with general internet users.

Teenagers are also active users of Wi-Fi hotspots. Our report Aussie teens online found that 20 per cent of teenagers aged 14 to 17 had used a Wi-Fi hotspot in the three months to December 2013. This increased slightly to 21 per cent in the three months to June 2014.

Of Australian adult internet users at June 2014:

  • 21 per cent (3.03 million people) used a Wi-Fi hotspot to complement other locations in an average three-month period
  • seven per cent (1.03 million people) identified Wi-Fi hotspots as their main location to access the internet in an average three-month period
  • fewer than one per cent exclusively use Wi-Fi hotspots for their internet connection (see Table 1).
Table 1 Use of Wi-Fi hotspots Jun-09  Jun-14  % point change 

Used a Wi-Fi hotspot to complement other locations




Used Wi-Fi hotspots as their main location to access the internet




Exclusively used Wi-Fi hotspots to access the internet




* Sample size of people who used Wi-Fi hotspots as their exclusive internet connection is too small to present time series data.
Base: Percentage of people aged 18 years and over who have used the internet in an average three-month period.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Where do hotspots come from?

Growth in use of Wi-Fi hotspots goes hand-in-hand with—and is dependent upon—the increased development of Wi-Fi infrastructure and deployment of Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi hotspots can be found in numerous public spaces across Australia, provided by both public and private operators.

 Publicly available Wi-Fi networks can include:
Large scale networks

Large-scale networks

Public infrastructure developments to provide widespread Wi-Fi coverage across central locations within towns/cities

Municipal spaces

Municipal spaces

Public Wi-Fi hotspots providing coverage within a small precinct such as parks, libraries, city centres, tourist attractions, museums or galleries

Public transport

Public transport

 Public Wi-Fi hotspots on public transport vehicles (trains, ferries, buses) and within transport hubs such as bus interchanges, ferry wharves, and train stations and concourses

Enterprise hotspots

Enterprise hotspots 

Free Wi-Fi publicly available in commercial locations such as shopping centres, food courts, cafes, airports, stadiums or hospitals

Closed networks

Closed networks

Provided by private operators, these can be found in similar locations to enterprise hotspots but are usually restricted to customers of the private operator, requiring a username/password and, in some case, a fee for service

Free Wi-Fi available here!

A number of public statements were made in Australia during 2013 and 2014, announcing either the launch of new public Wi-Fi hotspots or commitments by local or state governments, as well as some carriers, to build large-scale Wi-Fi networks in various cities. Table 2 outlines some of the existing publicly funded Wi-Fi hotspots available within Australia, including the status of large-scale networks within each state and territory.

Table 2 Publicly funded Wi-Fi hotspots in Australian states and territories

State/Territory Hotspot type* Hotspot location
Australian Capital Territory

Large-scale network

Canberra’s CBRfree network was announced in May 2014 by the ACT government. It will be located in Civic as well as commercial and tourist areas.7

Municipal spaces 

All ACT Government libraries offer free Wi-Fi services and public Wi-Fi can also be accessed at the Canberra Visitor Centre.8,9 

Public transport 

CBRfree will be available on Action buses.10 

New South Wales

Large-scale network

No plans announced. 

Municipal spaces 

To date, free public Wi-Fi hotspots in NSW have largely been the responsibility of local councils—such as Parramatta and Wollongong in their local CBDs, Marrickville in several municipal parks and Waverley at Bondi Beach. Many libraries, including the State Library of New South Wales, offer free Wi-Fi services.11,12,13,14,15 

Public transport 

Sydney ferry passengers have been able to access free Wi-Fi since 2011 and Wi-Fi is available for train passengers on platforms at Central Station in the CBD.16,17 

Northern Territory

Large-scale network 

No plans announced. 

Municipal spaces 

Free public Wi-Fi is available in local libraries and in the remote community of Milyakburra on Bickerton Island.18 

Public transport 

The NT Government provides free public Wi-Fi hotspots at some metropolitan bus interchanges in Darwin and Alice Springs.19 


Large-scale network 

Brisbane City Council announced in February 2014 that it would extend existing free public Wi-Fi hotspots. Coverage now includes the CBD, Valley malls, South Bank parklands and various parks in the CBD.20

Municipal spaces 

Brisbane City Council provides free Wi-Fi in council libraries. Some regional city councils throughout Queensland also provide free public Wi-Fi in libraries, parks and airports. The State Library of Queensland funds free Wi-Fi in Indigenous Knowledge Centres in remote and regional communities.21,22,23

Public transport 

Free public Wi-Fi is currently available on the CityCat and QueenslandRail transport systems.24

South Australia 

Large-scale network 

The Adelaide City Council and Government of South Australia completed the first rollout of AdelaideFree in August 2013, which covers 97 per cent of the Adelaide CBD and North Adelaide.25,26

Municipal spaces 

Councils in the Riverland tourism region launched a free Wi-Fi initiative in November 2013. A range of local councils provide free Wi-Fi through library services.27

Public transport 

Adelaide Metro provides free Wi-Fi across its fleet of trams and buses.28


Large-scale network 

The Launceston City Council provides Wi-Fi hotspot coverage over five areas of the Launceston CBD, operational since June 2014. The state government also offers free public Wi-Fi hotspots in seven regional locations along the East Coast.29,30 

Municipal spaces 

In April 2014, the Hobart City Council approved a plan to explore opportunities to introduce free Wi-Fi to the Hobart CBD and waterfront, acknowledging that the existing waterfront Wi-Fi service was ‘poor and unreliable’. Free Wi-Fi is available through a number of LINC Tasmania library services and Online Access Centres.31,32

Public transport 

No plans announced for Metro Tasmania. 


Large-scale network 

Victoria’s VicGovFree network was confirmed in October 2014 as a joint initiative between the City of Melbourne and Victorian Government—the free Wi-Fi network will be deployed across the CBDs of Melbourne, Ballarat and Bendigo, with a focus on public transport hubs and tourist attractions.33

Municipal spaces 

A range of local councils provide free Wi-Fi through library services, such as Moreland City Council, Bayside City Council, City of Moonee Valley and Latrobe City.34,35,36,37

Public transport 

The Victorian Government announced in April 2014 it will sponsor free Wi-Fi for commuters on V/Line train services running between Melbourne and Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Seymour and Traralgon. Coverage of the VicGovFree network will include the City Loop train stations, City Circle trams and Bendigo’s Tourist Tram.38,39

 Western Australia

Large-scale network 

The Perth WiFi network, provided by the City of Perth, has been operational since November 2013 with coverage across the Perth CBD.40

Municipal spaces 

A range of local councils provide free Wi-Fi services, including Fremantle, City of Vincent, City of Nedlands, Town of Victoria Park and various local libraries across the state.41,42,43,44

Public transport 

The Government of Western Australia introduced free Wi-Fi in the fleet of ‘London Cabs’ introduced in October 2013.45,46

 *Wi-Fi hotspots in this table are free hotspots provided by local or state governments and do not include enterprise hotspots (either free or fee-for-service). This table may not be a complete list of publicly funded hotspots.

The state of Australian Wi-Fi hotspots

As Table 2 shows, there is a range of activity across Australian states and territories to establish, improve or extend public Wi-Fi hotspots. Not surprisingly, this activity is reflected in the state-by-state use of Wi-Fi hotspots (Figure 3).

Figure 3 Wi-Fi hotspot users in each state and territory, June 2014 (%)

Wi-Fi hotspot users in each state and territory, June 2014 (%)

Figure 3(.csv) Wi-Fi hotspot users in each state and territory, June 2014 (%)

Base: Percentage of people, 18 years and over, who have used a Wi-Fi hotspot in an average three-month period to June 2014.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Carrier hotspots

In Australia, the number of mobile wireless internet subscribers (reflecting dongle, data card and USB modem services) has declined for the first time, decreasing by three per cent in the 12 months to June 2014 to reach 5.95 million subscribers.47  Industry analysts attribute changes in this market to more users taking advantage of smartphone tethering and free Wi-Fi networks.48


Carriers have been considering the challenges:


States that ‘customers tell us that 3G data is killing them financially and that they want free Wi-Fi when they go into the CBDs’.49 


States that ‘feedback from … customers is they want to be able to use [data] wherever they are and whatever time’.50  


Announced in May 2014 plans to develop a national Telstra Wi-Fi network that ‘would build on the company’s existing infrastructure with the aim to broaden the choice of connection and allow users to go online using portable devices in the vicinity of a hotspot’.51 

 As Wi-Fi network infrastructure continues to be built across Australia, carriers appear to be taking different approaches to providing public Wi-Fi.

Recent industry announcements include:


iiNet and its subsidiary Internode is involved in the deployment and operation of large-scale public Wi-Fi networks in Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Victoria. The company stated in May 2014 that ‘customers have been asking about strategies to augment the high cost of 4G services and this [Wi-Fi hotspots] provides customers with a valuable free internet service’.52 


An Optus spokesperson confirmed in October 2014 the carrier’s interest in public Wi-Fi rollouts and stated that it considers public Wi-Fi a complement to its existing network.53


Telstra began to roll out its national Wi-Fi network in November 2014, focusing on holiday locations as well as transforming some public payphones in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth into free Wi-Fi hotspots. Telstra has stated that access to these Wi-Fi hotspots is free until the network officially launches in early 2015—users who are not Telstra home broadband customers will then be required to pay a small fee to connect to the Telstra Wi-Fi hotspots.54

Worldwide Wi-Fi

Available data indicates that Australia occupies middle ground among comparable countries when it comes to use of Wi-Fi hotspots (Figure 4). In the UK, 11 per cent of people aged 16 and over had used Wi-Fi in a public place during March and April 2014.55 In the US, the proportion of Wi-Fi users is larger, with 43 per cent of US consumers using free Wi-Fi hotspots and 19 per cent using fee-based Wi-Fi hotspots in the three months to April 2014.56

Figure 4 Wi-Fi hotspot users in Australia, the UK and the US (%)

Wi-Fi hotspot users in Australia, the UK and the US (%) 

Figure 4 (.csv) Wi-Fi hotspot users in Australia, the UK and the US (%)

Base: US: Home technology users aged 18 and over who went online during January to March 2014. Australia: internet users aged 18 and over who went online during April to June 2014. UK: internet users aged 16 years and over who went online during March and April 2014.
Source: US: Nielsen, Australia: Roy Morgan Single Source, UK: Ofcom.

Wrapping up Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more established as a connection option, complementing fixed-line and mobile networks. As shown, use of Wi-Fi hotspots has grown consistently over the past five years and they are now used by 21 per cent of Australian adult internet users.

While use of Wi-Fi hotspots has become more common over the last 10 years, the development and rollout of large-scale Wi-Fi networks in Australia has only recently gained momentum, indicating that the once niche market is moving mainstream. As Australian states and territories, together with telecommunications carriers, identify a place for Wi-Fi coverage in Australia’s digital landscape, the ad hoc public Wi-Fi hotspots that currently exist (such as those outlined in Table 2) are slowly and strategically being upgraded with large-scale Wi-Fi networks that provide widespread coverage across whole city centres.

Background to this snapshot

Data sources

Data in this snapshot is from Roy Morgan Research (Roy Morgan Single Source product)—data covers changes occurring from June 2009 to June 2014.

Estimates in this snapshot are based on the following sample sizes (Table 3):

Table 3 Sample size (people aged 18 years and over) 

June 2009 

June 2014 


Those who have used the internet in an average three-month period



ABS total population estimate57

(June 2009 

(June 2013) 

 Source: Roy Morgan Single Source and Australian Bureau of Statistics.

ACMA research program

This snapshot is part of the ACMA’s research program, researchacma, which has five broad areas of interest:

  • market developments
  • media content and culture
  • social and economic participation
  • citizen and consumer safeguards
  • regulatory best practice and development.

Each snapshot covers a single issue and allows the ACMA to focus on communications, convergence and digital economy issues of interest to stakeholders. Access other snapshots here.

Further information

In association with the annual Communications report, the ACMA publishes a series of complementary reports and snapshots on topical issues of relevance to the ACMA and its stakeholders.

The ACMA Communications report 2013–14 will be available during December 2014 once the report has been tabled in parliament.

This snapshot and all the ACMA’s research publications are on the ACMA website at

Comments and enquiries about research snapshots should be sent to:

Join the conversation and follow us on Twitter @acmadotgov.

End notes

The full list of end notes for this snapshot—Strong signals: growing use of public Wi-Fi hotspots—is available here.

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