Hotel chain checks convergence in

Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) has flagged plans to deploy converged voice/video/data networks more widely throughout its hotel chain after a landmark project in mid-2006 proved the technology's worth. That project saw comms integrator Integ outfit IHG's brand new Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley facility with Internet Protocol-based (IP) telephony, digital video on demand and comprehensive Wi-Fi Internet access before it was launched in October last year.

Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) has flagged plans to deploy converged voice/video/data networks more widely throughout its hotel chain after a landmark project in mid-2006 proved the technology's worth.

That project saw comms integrator Integ outfit IHG's brand new Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley facility with Internet Protocol-based (IP) telephony, digital video on demand and comprehensive Wi-Fi Internet access before it was launched in October last year.

"Given the success that we've had at Hunter Valley, we've been able to on-sell that type of technology to four other new installations coming up in the Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific region over the coming two years," IHG general manager Kevin Noble told ZDNet Australia via telephone recently.

Noble said IHG had trialled similar technology in hotels before in the region and internationally, but had been looking for a pilot hotel in Australia to implement a fully converged network.

The technology was considered particularly appropriate for the Hunter Valley facility because a substantial portion of the hotel's business was expected to come from hosting conferences full of tech-savvy business people.

The move seems to be paying off for the hotel already, with Noble saying customers and staff had responded well to the new technology since the October launch.

Ted Horner of E-Horner & Associates, who worked as a consultant on the deployment, added the hotel's general manager had already praised guest take-up of the digital movie on demand, broadband and Wi-Fi services.

The digital video on demand features of the new system allow guests to choose from a much wider selection of movies than traditional systems, and also allow advanced viewing functionality such as bookmarking.

The nitty-gritty
Horner said the project was put out to tender to Integ (a subsidiary of UXC) as well as heavyweights such as Cisco and Avaya.

Cisco fared well through the evaluation due to a similar solution they had supplied for the Sydney Hilton, he said, but Integ eventually got the nod due to the combination of an attractive price and a dedication to commit quality personnel to the project. Integ supplied Alcatel equipment.

"They put their best resources forward to project manage and also do the systems integration role," Horner said, noting that like IHG itself, Integ wanted to use the site as a case study for other opportunities.

In terms of lessons learnt, Horner recommended similar deployments choose a vendor who had "serious project management skills" and the ability to work with other vendors to make sure different brands of technology could be dovetailed together.

The Hunter Valley project tied together an IP network with point of sale (Micros) and video on demand equipment, for example.

"When we first put all the parts together, there was some initial trepidation," said Horner. "As you know, all vendors have their egos, and they all want to put their two bob's worth on the table."

But such problems were quickly smoothed out.

"In the end we all got together, and tested a lot of things in the laboratory -- [for example] we managed to get Micros to come over to Integ's laboratory and test the wireless access points in their lab," said Horner.

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