Queensland Rail is planning a Wi-Fi network across its trains and stations-- but is it possible to just 'borrow' a wireless connection while travelling around Brisbane's major CBD stations already? Road Worrier decided to find out with a little slurp sleuthing.
You can make all the Queensland jokes you want, but when it comes to public transport, the Sunshine State has a lot going for it. It managed to introduce a proper travel smart card, the go card, ahead of any other state apart from WA, and its rail network is the most extensive of any in Australia (and with pretty decent 3G coverage in some of the more remote stretches).
Despite that, last year's announcement that Queensland Rail intended to offer a free Wi-Fi service at all its metropolitan Citytrain stations from 2010 met with a certain degree of scepticism. There wasn't much in the way of technical detail, so quite how QR planned to ensure the service wasn't leeched by people living near stations remains a mystery.
Those questions won't get answered until the service goes live next year, but there is one issue which can be investigated ahead of time: does it matter anyway? Are Queensland stations already surrounded by enough wireless hotspots that a casual traveller could get some quick illicit email checking done? On a recent visit to Brisbane, I decided to test this out by seeing how many unsecured wireless networks I could access from the platforms of the four central Brisbane stations (South Brisbane, Roma Street, Central and Fortitude Valley).
Of course, nobody in their right mind should run a wireless network and not secure it. Indeed, even securing it with WEP isn't enough, given the ease of cracking into a WEP-secured network.
At this stage, I'd also normally insert a stern legal note pointing out that it's bad manners to access a network that's not yours, and doubly so if you're planning a high-traffic activity like downloading movie torrents rather than just a quick surf past your Gmail. However, that turns out not to be necessary, because the businesses located near each of those four stations turn out to be properly clued up about security.
At three out of four of them, there wasn't a single unsecured network in site, though there were plenty of networks with names suggesting they belonged to either QR or to adjacent shops. I couldn't even get onto McDonald's free offering, despite Maccas being nearby at two of the stations.
At Roma Street, I could potentially have connected to Telstra's public Wi-Fi network, but that's a charged service (unless you have a Telstra-connected iPhone). Other than that, Roma Street sported a handful of the ghost networks that often appear, but no actual services I could connect to.
Turns out that until QR go live, your only option is to use 3G wireless broadband. That's not really bad news -- it's good if nothing else to know that people seem to be taking Wi-Fi security more seriously than they used to.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman wishes every state in Australia had proper travel smart cards. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.