“I was working at Apple on the technology and computer side of the industry. In 1997 I got a call from a mate of mine saying “Look I’ve just joined this crazy company called Xtra that’s starting up and they really need some help. And so I got dragged into it and it was great. I probably arrived in ’97 about a year after it was started. I came in after the launch, they’d had a massive run of success but everything had melted down, the helpdesk was overloaded, the network was through the floor and customers were all very unhappy – and we set about trying to fix that. That was a really interesting time. The market was ready to grow really fast. People were ready for the Internet and hearing about it. And Telecom’s entry into the market with Xtra validated that for a lot of people. There was this period of really strong growth – we started putting on 100,000 customers a year and 10-15,000 customers a month joining – and we were running as fast as we could to keep up with this growth. New Zealanders really took up the Internet in droves. Part of that was that in New Zealand there was a really cool thing called ‘free local calls’. In most countries overseas like Australia, it’s 20 cents every time you pick up the phone or a lot of countries are 70 cents every time you pick up the phone. So if you use your dial-up Internet a lot, you’d end up with a heinous bill just for the telephone charges and not for the Internet component. With New Zealand with free local calling, you only had to pay the Internet charges which made it pretty compelling for people compared to a lot of markets overseas. So dial-up really just took off. The experience was getting better as well. You started out with 9600 board modems around the time we launched and within a few years you’re up to 336 and 56k. It was a happy place where the Internet was maturing and there were lots more things to do – the emergence of portals and search engines – I mean Yahoo!, wow, a list of websites, how cool is that! The network was getting better, the prices were coming down and it was this happy epicentre of a really massive growth.
We got calls from Telecom people saying, “There’s now more dial-up minutes on the network than phone minutes!”. We didn’t understand... Xtra was distinct and separate from Telecom. We just thought we were using the phone network like anybody else. We didn’t realise quite how much pain that was causing for people. You only use your phone so many minutes a day typically but you use the Internet for hours a day. We saw average monthly usage go to 10 hours a month and then 20 hours a month – just growing and growing.”