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Slam from Sam sees resort upgrade to fibre

Can they quote him in the ads? “Wired internet at #morgo conference at Wairakei Resort gives me 3kbps for $0.79 per minute.   What a joke. Never run a conference here.”

So tweeted Sam Morgan in October 2011 as he attended the annual entrepreneurs’ conference run by Jenny Morel’s No 8 Ventures.

Morgo duly decamped to Queenstown for its 2012 and 2013 events.

The Trade Me founder’s comments stung, and more so given “Our core business is conferencing” says Kathy Guy, who manages the Taupo resort.

Ms Guy tells NBR the resort was a technology leader in the early 1990s, being the first to install ISDN (the fastest form of copper broadband in its day) and videoconferencing capability.

Mr Morgan’s social media slam was a wakeup call.

The resort sent out a request for proposals and chose Telecom’s Gen-i unit for an upgrade to fibre broadband.

The process took 18 months and was complicated by the fact there’s no fibre to the kerb in Wairakei’s neck of the woods (5km north of Taupo). The four-star resort is in something of a “no man’s land for infrastructure” as Ms Guy puts it. The hotel had to arrange its own water, own sewerage system and now its own fibre optic cable.

“It was not a simple process,” says Ms Guy. Progress was eased by the fact the resort could take advantage of fibre run to Wairakei Primary School but that was still several kilometres up the road. In the end, connecting the resort’s conference facilities and all rooms cost around $80,000 (incidentally a similar amount to what it cost another Gen-i customer, Kim Dotcom, to get his semi-rural mansion hooked up to fibre; see www.nbr.co.nz/dotcom-fibre)

Wi-fi has also been spruced up. It’s so typical these days for hotels to offer wi-fi at conferences, only for the wireless broadband to fall over after a handful of people log on. Wairakei’s fibre setup – which has only just gone live – has yet to be stressed by a big event but it’s set up to potentially handle 500 or more wi-fi connections (whether it’s more or less would depend on factors such as whether people are doing simple stuff like checking email or something demanding like videoconferencing).

There is 30Mbit/s of bandwidth on tap, with the ability to burst to 100Mbit/s. That’s the kind of broadband muscle you need behind wi-fi in an age when travellers are packing not just laptops but also smartphones and tablets.

Charges have been lowered and the first 30 minutes’ wi-fi is free (after that $5 buys you 200MB or 24 hours, whichever comes first; $10 gives you 500MB or 48 hours. The tradition of outrageous pricing is preserved at a reception internet kiosk, where a half-hour's internet access costs $8).

More, Wairakei now owns its broadband setup and control of what it charges. Previously it has relied on an internet service provider that specialised in hotels – and whose robust pricing often drew complaints (something that’s far too common in the industry, which often treats wi-fi as the new mini bar).

Now the resort is chasing new conference business. A technology-intensive Association of Local Government Information Management (ALGIM), with 70 trade partners, is one that’s already booked, and a XeroCon is also in Ms Guy’s sights.

And, yes, Sam Morgan has given it the nod.

"Congrats to Wairakei Resort in Taupo for getting fibre ... this Twitter thing does work!" he tweeted on April 19.  

More by Chris Keall