Photo: Roger Atkinson
[ Roger Atkinson's Home Page ] [ Publications Contents ]

Free Wi-Fi everywhere!

Roger Atkinson

After a musing about free textbooks in the previous IT in higher education column [1], here is a happier musing on another topic in the freedom genre. Happier, because free Wi-Fi [2] is everywhere! Ubiquitous! My starting point on this topic was a recent holiday in Europe. On our first morning abroad, Clare and I walked around Copenhagen, past the central railway station with suburban trains proclaiming free Wi-Fi on board [3], into a congenial coffee shop, with free Wi-Fi on its menu. Settled down with our iPad and HP Windows laptop to read email and check various websites for news. Very civilised! Reflected on how much the traveller's Internet access has improved in the last few years. In earlier times, usually one had to search the back streets to find a dingy cybercafé in an overcrowded upstairs room, packed with old Windows desktops, their keyboard lettering worn into illegibility, not much "bandwidth" available, and as for coffee, sometimes one could get DIY instant in polystyrene mugs.

Our "free Wi-Fi everywhere" expectation was reinforced nearly everywhere in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, in part because most of our travel was on a coach equipped with free Wi-Fi access to the Internet, via local 3G mobile phone networks, and in part by free Wi-Fi found in almost every hotel on our itinerary. After the Nordic countries, we endured a gap in free Wi-Fi, as Deutsche Bahn and other long distance rail carriers did nothing for us on our Stockholm-Berlin-Vienna journey, notwithstanding our First Class passenger status. We needed the very good Wi-Fi/coffee shop in Vienna that we found just around the corner from our five star, free Wi-Fi only-in-the-lobby hotel! Strangely, free Wi-Fi availability and hotel star ratings are inversely correlated.

Travelling on, by coach in parts of Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, again we enjoyed free Wi-Fi nearly everywhere. However, mobile phone "black spots" were more extensive, so dropouts in our coach's Internet connection were more frequent, and cafe style free access was not as widespread as in northern Europe.

So, what is the purpose behind these musings? Firstly, upon return from that most delightful holiday, I was motivated to check the "free Wi-Fi everywhere" hypothesis for Australian campuses, a simple exercise that provided a way to reflect upon trends in purposes and opportunities. Secondly, soon after we ended our European holiday, some of the cities, railway stations and freeways on our itinerary became overwhelmed by Europe's 2015 summer and autumn refugee crisis. A crisis alleviated, or worsened, depending on one's disposition towards refugees, by "free Wi-Fi nearly everywhere".

Firstly, "free Wi-Fi everywhere" is a reality for Australian campuses, as I confirmed quite readily from searches of all university websites in Australia. The underlying technological opportunities are well known, especially those presented over the last few years. We now enjoy greatly expanded use of "BYOD" (bring your own device), made possible by very attractive, much lower prices for devices, especially the more recent mobile devices - lightweight laptop computers, tablets such as the iPad and similar, and smart phones such as the iPhone and similar. And, most importantly, Wi-Fi, enabling the new devices to be used anywhere on campus within the range of a Wi-Fi enabled router. Coupled with the present day incredibly low charges for external network traffic, "free Wi-Fi everywhere" is an obvious opportunity for campuses. Less dependence and reduced expenditure upon university-supplied computer workstations in laboratories and libraries is a bonus.

The adoption of "free Wi-Fi everywhere" is a large transition from the mindset of one to two decades ago, when university-supplied Internet access had to be rationed, for example by strict conditions of use that banned "non-academic", "wasteful", "social" activities such as IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Now, spurred along by recent cohorts of hitech-savvy students and the technological advances, university attitudes are much more liberal. Strict conditions of use are in the background, and positive, socially-oriented projections are typical. For example, Western Sydney University [4]:

What's the benefit to me?
The major benefit to students and staff is Internet access 'anywhere' on campus. Provided you're in a wireless zone, you can log in with your wireless device and access the Internet without battling red tape. You can access the Internet in many areas that don't have a traditional network installed, such as campus cafés, the Library, and lecture theatres. You can take advantage of good weather and work outside, or connect during a lecture. ... Other benefits will be seen as users become familiar with the capabilities of wireless - for example, students and staff may develop more innovative and flexible approaches to the learning experience. [4]
Macquarie University projects a similar though somewhat more explicitly detailed view [5]:
Macquarie OneNet WiFi is the easiest, most convenient every-day way for students and staff to connect wirelessly to our campus network and the internet with a set-and-forget personal connection. Any time your WiFi device is within range after being set up it will connect and authenticate automatically. The results are secure always-on connections without expiry and the ability to avoid costly 3G data access whenever you're in a coverage area.[5]
[in Macquarie's acceptable use policy pages] ...
Use of ICT resources and facilities for personal purposes is permitted only if it:
is in the University's opinion, not excessive;
is lawful and compliant with Macquarie University policies and State and Commonwealth legislation;
respects intellectual property and the ownership of data and software ... [6]
Use of Wi-Fi access as an attractive feature in marketing for university residences is illustrated by St Thomas More College, University of Western Australia. The College's website presents a graphic, not accompanied by any further explanation - the target demographic will understand, and know what they can do with their free "250 GB per month" [7].

Graphic: 250 GB per month

From the University of Wollongong [8]:

From 1 December 2015 all students at UOW Living will soon be able to access Quota Free Internet. The cost of this will be absorbed in the weekly rental - there will no longer be a requirement to purchase internet quota from an external provider. All internet services will be provided by UOW.[8]
However, unusually, one college places an explicit limit on the Internet access it provides to students [9]:
The decision of Ormond College to install a filter blocking access to pornographic material is a way of strengthening its statement about what defines the College as a values-based community. (Rufus Black) [9]
After this picture of abundance on campus, almost indulgence, with "free Wi-Fi everywhere", consider now a completely different context for this technology: the role of free Wi-Fi in Europe's 2015 summer and autumn refugee crisis. The same Wi-Fi technology, though for refugees with little money, access means using a cheaper brand of smart phone, not a laptop or tablet, and also high dependence upon free Wi-Fi, owing to the expense of SIM cards for independent access to the Internet. However, the purposes are uniquely different from those perceived by students on Australian campuses, or by tourists in a near-luxury style coaches. As expressed in one blog posting [10]:
#RefugeesWelcome: How smartphones and social media empower refugees and EU citizens and bring change to European refugee policies
As the cost of smartphones is continuing to go down, and free or cheap access to the Internet is standard in many countries, it should come as no surprise that many refugees carry one with them. A smartphone was, as the journalist noted, probably the best investment many refugees could make. Through their smartphone, refugees use Google maps and GPS to find their way forward, and Facebook, Whatsapp groups or Viber to stay updated on any new barriers or problems that lie ahead. Three studies by the REACH initiative on the situation in Lesbos, Kos and Athens, confirm that the main source of information for asylum seekers is social media updates, followed by word of mouth and information from families already in the final destination. In many cases, Syrian asylum seekers are able to go online using free Wi-Fi provided by restaurants or cafes. (Tina Comes and Bartel van de Walle) [10].
Many other recent headlines and media reports have touched upon the importance of free Wi-Fi:
Tech helps refugees make journey - and survive when they arrive (New Scientist) [11]
Free WiFi for refugees (Deutsche Welle) [12]
Volunteers bring Wi-Fi to refugees in Europe on backpacks ( [13]
Google Maps is putting Europe's human-traffickers out of business (Business Insider Australia) [14]
WhatsApp offers lifeline for Syrian refugees on journey across Europe (Mashable Australia) [15]
Educational institutions, especially European universities, are alert to opportunities to meet needs and recruit students with potential:
How Europe's academy is addressing the refugee crisis (Times Higher Education) [16]
The refugee crisis and higher ed (Inside Higher Ed) [17]
Students: Find scholarships (IIE Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis) [18]
Study opportunities for refugees (Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg) [19]
German colleges open up to refugees (Handelsblatt Global Edition) [20]
Study and work support for highly educated refugees (Foundation for Refugee Students, Netherlands) [21]
Supporting refugees to access higher education (European Resettlement Network) [22]
Scholarships for international, migrant and refugee students (University of Canberra) [23]
Western Sydney University announces scholarship fund to support refugees (Western Sydney U.) [24]
... the University community has been moved by the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in the Middle East and Europe, and wants to do all it can to assist by providing more educational opportunities for those who settle here, particularly in Western Sydney - one of the fastest growing regions in the country. ... "Western Sydney University has a long and proud history of opening its doors to those for whom the journey to university has been anything but conventional," says Professor Glover. (Western Sydney U.) [24]
I wondered about a new and free smart phone app, perhaps named "AustraliaApp", designed for going viral on social media, proclaiming a bold new message, "Come to the country where Wi-Fi was invented! Tech-savvy youth especially welcome. University and technical college scholarships available. Tap HERE to apply for Australia!"


See for this article in HTML, including links to numerous references for this topic.

  1. Atkinson, R. J. (2015). Textbooks free and online! What are our universities doing? HERDSA News, 37(2).
  2. CSIRO (2014). Wireless LANs.
  3. Passenger Transport (2012). Free WiFi introduced on Copenhagen trains. 4 September.
  4. Western Sydney University (n.d.). Western WiFi Wireless Network.
  5. Macquarie University (n.d.). OneNet WiFi.
  6. Macquarie University (n.d.). Acceptable use policy.
  7. St Thomas Moore College (n.d.). Welcome to Tommy.
  8. University of Wollongong (n.d.). Quota Free Internet at UOW Living.
  9. Black, R. (2015). Pornography, community and the proper use of shared resources. ABC Religion and Ethics, 18 September.
  10. Comes, T. & van de Walle, B. (2015). #RefugeesWelcome: How smartphones and social media empower refugees and EU citizens and bring change to European refugee policies. ATHA Blog, 2 October.
  11. New Scientist (2015). Tech helps refugees make journey - and survive when they arrive. 7 September.
  12. Deutsche Welle (2015). Free WiFi for refugees. 5 October.
  13. Dewast, L. (2015). Volunteers bring Wi-Fi to refugees in Europe on backpacks. abcnews, 22 September.
  14. Price, R. (2015). Google Maps is putting Europe's human-traffickers out of business. Business Insider Australia, 9 September.
  15. Specia, M. (2015). WhatsApp offers lifeline for Syrian refugees on journey across Europe. Mashable Australia, 4 July.
  16. Grove, G. (2015). How Europe's academy is addressing the refugee crisis. Times Higher Education, 15 October.
  17. Redden, E. (2015). The refugee crisis and higher ed. Inside Higher Ed, 25 September.
  18. IIE Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis (2015). Additional help.
  19. Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (2015). Study opportunities for refugees.
  20. Hergert, S. (2015). German colleges open up to refugees. Handelsblatt, 244, 19 August.
  21. Foundation for Refugee Students, Netherlands (2015). UAF: Study and work support for highly educated refugees.
  22. European resettlement Network (2015). Supporting refugees to access higher education.
  23. University of Canberra (2015). Scholarships for international, migrant and refugee students.
  24. Western Sydney University (2015). Western Sydney University announces scholarship fund to support refugees.

Author: Roger Atkinson retired from Murdoch University in June 2001. His current activities include honorary work on the TL Forum conference series, Issues in Educational Research, and other academic conference support and publishing activities. Website (including this article in html format):

Note: The version presented here is longer than the print published version, as it includes references that were omitted for space constraint reasons.

Please cite as: Atkinson, R. J. (2015). Free Wi-Fi everywhere! HERDSA News, 37(3).

[ Roger Atkinson's Home Page ] [ Publications Contents ]
Created 27 Oct 2015. Last correction: 17 Dec 2015. HTML author: Roger Atkinson []
This URL: