Case study: Golf the wireless way

21 Mar 2005

The K Club in Kildare is not just the location for the 2006 Ryder Cup. It is one of the most prestigious hotel and golf clubs in the country. Lying on 550 acres on the banks of the River Liffey, it boasts not one, but two Arnold Palmer-designed 18-hole golf courses, 69 hotel bedrooms, 25 apartments, several restaurants, a top-class spa and two clubhouses, the second of which, The Smurfit Clubhouse, opened last May and is one of the largest in Europe.

It is one of only a handful of hotels in Ireland to be graded five red stars by the AA and is rated five star by Bord Fáilte.

Visitors to The K Club, therefore, expect a certain level of service and The K Club is only too happy to provide it. The management team is always on the look out for new services and trends that emerge. In recent years broadband internet access has become the must-have service for top-of-the-range establishments. In fact, in the US it is difficult for a hotel to qualify for four stars, let alone five, if it is lacking.

Patrick Cahill, the K Club’s IT manager, was aware of this trend. “We were hearing ourselves that this was coming down the line,” he says. “There is no official requirement for broadband in European hotels just yet but it will soon be a requirement certainly for five-star hotels. We’ve certainly been talking about it internally for the past five years. Initially, demand was for ISDN. A lot of other hotels spent money and put ISDN in rooms but there were problems such as European ISDN not being compatible with US equipment so we didn’t go that way.”

Cahill was also faced with the fact that The K Club Hotel is not a modern building. The original manor house on which the hotel is based dates back to 1832 and is a protected building. Retrofitting the hotel with network cabling was not an option. Fortunately, wireless networking or Wi-Fi was beginning to emerge.

“One of the first conversations we had with Eircom about wireless was back in 2002,” recalls Cahill. “However, we were sceptical at the time that enough people had wireless-enabled laptops.” While some hotels were offering a wireless service by providing PCMCIA cards to clients Cahill recognised that this could be problematic as trying to configure guests laptops could lead to corrupted settings and so on. The introduction by Intel of the Centrino chipset that provided new laptops with built-in wireless networking as standard changed the picture considerably. “We made a decision to go ahead with wireless in 2003 and Eircom installed a two-month trial package in January 2004.”

The trial enabled The K Club to provide wireless access in the public areas of the hotel and in the Palmer Clubhouse. It also enabled Cahill to assess the technology and methodologies behind applying it. “Our scepticism was unfounded,” he says.

Following the success of the trial, the hotel began rolling out the service into the bedrooms. According to Cahill, this process is still ongoing but the majority of the rooms are now wireless ready.

While wireless technology solves many of the problems of installing network cabling it doesn’t solve them all. The wireless access points must still be connected to the internet access point. Cahill pays tribute to Alice Tolan, group key account manager who led the Eircom team on the project. “Eircom took on the responsibility of getting cable to the access points. That was a challenge. Unlike modern buildings there are no crawl spaces or ducting. But we didn’t have to worry about it,” he says.

Visitors to the club who wish to use the system and who do not subscribe to Eircom’s wireless service can purchase a voucher from the hotel. This takes the form of a scratch card with a user ID and password. Revenue from the sale of cards is split between Eircom and The K Club. The card also carries a support telephone number and it was the level of technical support that Eircom could provide that persuaded to Cahill to go with that company rather than any of the other wireless access providers.

“With most of the other providers we would have had to provide support ourselves and we are not an IT support company,” says Cahill. Staff are trained to recognise simple problems and to refer guests to the support number for more complicated issues.

“The biggest benefit that the Wi-Fi service brings to The K Club is being able to provide a service that our customers were demanding,” Cahill says. “This is becoming a standard in the hotel industry and will enable us to attract guests. I know of at least two groups we hosted over the past year who would not have come if we hadn’t had the service.”

Pictured were Patrick Cahill, IT manager, and Ronan McCabe, IT administrator of The K Club

By David Stewart