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Telstra switches on 150 public Wi-Fi hotspots, offering free access

Telstra is rolling out public Wi-Fi in Australia's parks, beaches and city malls as part of a trial for a new network expected to grow to 2 million hotspots. And for a limited time, you can get access for free.

A Wi-Fi-enabled Telstra phone booth. Claire Reilly/CNET

Telstra has switched on 150 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country today, offering free public internet access in parks, beaches and city centres.

The move is part of a bid to create Australia's largest public Wi-Fi network, with as many as 2 million hotspots spread across major cities and smaller regional centres within 5 years. Of those, Australians can expect 1,000 hotspots to be live before Christmas, including today's launch sites at Hyde Park, Bondi Beach and Manly Beach in Sydney, Federation Square and Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne and King George Square in Brisbane.

Speaking at today's launch, Telstra's Director of Fixed Broadband and Bundled Products and Services Stuart Bird said the network would be "one of the largest Wi-Fi networks across the world".

"Today is again about Telstra bringing another way to connect to Australians," he said. "[The network] offers customers the chance to log on to the Wi-Fi hotspot, they can surf the web, they can connect over a picnic, they can watch their favourite TV shows live in the park."

As proof that everything old is new again, Telstra is installing the first 1,000 hotspots into existing public phone booths, each one kitted out with a pink cube on top, marked with a white Wi-Fi logo.

Members of the public will be able to find their nearest hotspot on Telstra's Wi-Fi website, and then after coming into range of the hotspot and accepting the terms and conditions, they'll get access to 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi.

A sign on the phone booth advertises Wi-Fi access. Claire Reilly/CNET

Telstra has confirmed that there won't be data download limits, but warned that it was an open network still in trial stages, so users were advised not to "not to do any data transfer that might put any of their personal data out there," such as online banking. The company is working on a "security solution" for the network, but that isn't anticipated until the second quarter of 2015.

But if you're comfortable using an open network, it's worth getting in while it's still in trial stages, because once the network is officially launched, it will no longer be free. Telstra home broadband customers will still be able to use the hotspots, but data usage will count towards their monthly broadband allowance, and non-Telstra customers will need to access the network by paying for a guest pass.

Telstra customers will also form part of the network itself, thanks to a new Gateway Max modem that turns the user's home broadband network into a Wi-Fi hotspot that can be accessed by other users. The modem hardware was first launched in May, with Telstra unveiling a number of new bundles earlier this month that include the modem for free.

But it's not just parks, beaches and homes that will offer Telstra public Wi-Fi -- thanks to a deal between Telstra and Spanish-based telco Fon, Telstra home broadband customers will also be able to access a network of more than 13 million Fon-enabled hotspots overseas.