User demand for the broadband wireless pilot project undertaken by South Waikato District Council (SWDC) has exceeded all expectations and a commercial roll out will proceed hopefully before the middle of the year.
SWDC economic development manager Noel Ferguson says although internet usage penetration in the region is running behind the national average at only around 25%, demand for the WiFi service is huge.
"There's a huge economic driver in place in the district and we've learned a heck of a lot from the pilot - not about technology but about people."
Ferguson says the end users don't care what type of technology is used to deliver the service, be it DSL or wireless or whatever, they're more interested in the service it can deliver. "Technology isn't the issue, people are the issue."
Ferguson believes that one of the main drivers behind the huge demand for a wireless service in the region is that it will remain locally owned and operated.
"It will be a regionally-based community-owned network as much as is possible and that's something they can understand and get behind."
Pricing is also a driver for the pilot users - Ferguson says the service is "basically unlimited" in terms of traffic and costs $55 a month.
"It's all you can eat but obviously if we find someone downloading gigabytes worth of MP3s or something we'll be having a quiet word in their ear. So long as they don't go mad with it."
Ferguson says the commercial rollout will clarify just how much is too much and the council will adjust its expectations accordingly. A voice service is planned as well that will add $10 a month to the price tag.
"It's all running on non-proprietary 802.11b technology and we're looking at 11 MBit/s in the back haul at the moment. When we go to 802.11g that will increase to 54 MBit/s. Because it's non-proprietary if something better comes along we can make the switch quite quickly."
Ferguson says the council is working through the Project PROBE submission process and will be applying for cash from the government-driven project, however even if it doesn't receive funding it will proceed with the rollout.
"We're looking at covering from Auckland down to Taupo regardless of what happens with PROBE. I keep telling our guys just to hang in there and we will be coming to them soon."
The SWDC is working in partnership with start-up company Rural Networks to build the network.