Kerikeri recently got fibre broadband and one data-hungry business, Aerial Vision, has been transformed as a result. Another, 'Flashpackers' Hone Heke Lodge, is now enjoying a complaint-free life as its young guests skype, download photos and play online games with no drop outs. Johanna Egar reports

When you’ve had to live with an “atrocious” download speed of 1-2Mbps, going to a fibre broadband speed of 100Mbps is “hugely beneficial”, says Glenn McLelland.

The owner of Kerikeri-based drone photography business Aerial Vision, McLelland has enjoyed fibre for six months now and it has transformed his business.

He says the company was previously on an ADSL connection that did a kilometre loop before getting to its central Kerikeri premises. The new 100Mbps connection means the huge video files – 50 to 80GB, if using 4K video – that his drone cameras can generate can now be uploaded in an hour.

“It sometimes used to take days to upload them. If we did a big job, we had to put everything on a hard drive and take it up to Springbank School, which has fibre, because we couldn’t have our whole internet tied up for days while it did an upload”, he says.

McLelland, whose background is in photography, also takes still photographs. These used to take 45 minutes to upload; they now upload in just a minute.

“We can get jobs straight out there now,” he says. “It’s a fast turnaround.”

Fibre has removed Aerial Vision’s main workflow bottleneck. The smaller but still hefty 20GB data-sets produced by the aerial survey photographs and video the company increasingly specialises in, can now be uploaded quickly to processing services in the cloud for analysis. This can be done “without making our internet connection unusable”, says McLelland.

The company has done a lot of aerial mapping and has mapped areas from as small as one hectare to 300 hectares. Forestry companies, councils undertaking road construction and cycleway planning, as well as kiwifruit orchards and music festival organisers all need this service. McLelland gives the example of a huge pine seedling nursery that is home to millions of seedlings. Aerial mapping tells this huge supplier to the forest industry how many seedlings have actually sprouted – not all do.

Other clients want their land surveyed aerially for a variety of reasons, particularly if they have recently bought some land, or are thinking of doing so. A drone camera can take a variety of measurements and now – because of fast broadband – “within an hour you can have a 3D map you can view online and have it colour-coded for land heights or whatever else you might want,” says McLelland.

“These models are detailed and can be analysed in a number of ways depending on customers’ requirements – for example, extracting contour lines, calculating cut-fill volumes, determining slope and run-off.”

Inevitably, given this is Kerikeri, kiwifruit mapping is a regular job for Aerial Vision. It works with Zespri, kiwifruit international marketer, to perform aerial audits of kiwifruit farms. These tell Zespri how much canopy area each grower has and determines their golden kiwifruit licensing fee. (Canopy is the amount of fruit being grown – the plants’ leaves form a canopy.)

Another client is the Police. “We once surveyed a crime scene to give them a top-down map without the scene having to be disturbed,” says McLelland. The company also took the photographs for the Police’s fire-arms training manual. “That was quite a fun one as we got to chase around with the cops while they did their bad guy scenarios.”

Having fibre broadband makes work so much easier that the company is now thinking about collaborating more with others. Previously, it was hard to send raw video footage – the files are very big – to another person or company for editing help. McLelland says he would like to collaborate more “with like-minded businesses at the top of their field.”

“Aerial Vision prides itself on quality”, he says. “This is why we are CAA certified”. The certification means the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is satisfied the company has robust drone safety procedures.

Helping young adventurers from around the world go online

Aerial Vision isn’t the only Kerikeri company experiencing big benefits from fibre broadband. 'Flashpackers' Hone Heke Lodge had fibre installed in November. Although its needs were not as pressing as Aerial Vision’s they were still real.

Co-owner of the luxury backpackers’ lodge, Victoria Howells-Kennedy, says online life used to be quite fraught. “Prior to this, we had constant internet drop-outs and slow speed. We even put in two lines to try and alleviate it. It still didn’t work.”

Now, with fibre broadband installed, the lodge’s “young adventurers”, as Howells-Kennedy calls them – their guests are mainly aged from 18 to 24 – can much more easily keep in touch with their families using Skype. They can also quickly download their photos, watch Netflix, use social media, keep their blogs up to date and play online games without getting frustrated by slow response times.

Howells-Kennedy gave a one-day example of their internet speed now. “Yesterday, our typical speed was: download 21.6Mbps; upload 28Mbps, and a 10ms (millisecond) ping.” (Ping – response time – is important for online gaming and anything under 20ms is considered excellent.).

She isn’t sure what their internet speed was before the lodge had fibre broadband installed, but says they don't get people moaning about the internet now. "That’s the main thing. Our guests are happy. They can keep in touch with their family; they can all skype at the same time. None of the dropping in and dropping out we used to have."

"It’s fantastic, especially because our clients are so young and it’s their world, being on their phones and the Internet. It’s been a really good customer experience”, she says.

“And it’s good for our kids as well. Because we live on site, we have two lines, one for our guests and one for ourselves", she says. Better internet means the couple’s 14-year-old twins, who are both keen on online games, now have much more fun playing their favourite, Minecraft. Latency, or response time, is now a respectable 12 milliseconds.