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Communications and the London Olympics

Paul Budde

Communications will be one of the most critical areas during the London Olympic Games.

The industry is working to establish shared access networks — would it not be nice if they did this everywhere, all the time? They are also working very closely with British Olympic Association, London Transport, the broadcasters and content providers.

Mobile coverage will be the biggest shared infrastructure in the world. There are already 80 million mobile devices in the UK, and to this will be added the millions of devices from overseas visitors and athletes. There will be more people taking photos and videos and sending them around the world. And, of course, the same applies to the thousands of professional photographers and journalists attending the Games. The mobile operators have indicated that there may be periods of 'controlled service', particularly in relation to mobile broadband.

There will be two dimensions to this network — one for officials and athletes, and one for the general public. The network will go live on 1 June and will cater for a range of related and other events:

  • Olympic Torch Relay, 27 May-27 July;
  • Diamond Jubilee, 2 June-5 June;
  • Euro 2012, 8 June-1 July (IPTV);
  • Farnborough Airshow;
  • Olympic Games, starting on 25 July.
  • Over 1,000 BT workers have been assigned to the communications activities surrounding the Games.

Next-generation access network rollouts have been accelerated and core network bandwidth has been increased to facilitate the backbone network, as well as increased fibre access to all facilities, venues, etc.

Extra capacity is needed for the BBC iPlayer service, which will drive up telecoms traffic, with each of 24 HD Olympic TV channels using 3Mb/s. Organisations are made aware of the fact that corporate networks could be flooded if people are watching in the office. This will also apply to international links, as overseas viewers could flood these as well.

If an incident occurs that goes viral on YouTube, this could also swamp networks. There have been warnings that the lack of a national high-speed broadband network could see network meltdowns in such circumstances.

It is anticipated that many public websites can expect as much as five times their normal traffic; organisations should be aware of this and take the necessary measures to cope with it.

Another interesting contingency is that call centres are employing extra staff, as it is expected that enquiry call on-hold time will be longer due to foreign languages. Other increases are expected on retailers' card terminals and ATM usage.

Because of increased security awareness there are elaborate security plans in place — to protect not only the people but also all infrastructures, including the existing telecoms infrastructure around the country. Security plans also take into account other 'unpredictables' that can lead to disturbances, such as unforecasted gatherings, cyber attacks, and large increases in free rich content over the networks.

There is a Resilience and Response Group (EC-RRG) operating the National Emergency Alert for Telecommunications (NEAT) coordination points. There are contingency scenarios for engineers, suppliers, colleagues unable to reach site and so on. They also have proactive procedures in place to reduce risks such as internet congestion, the impact on home working, monitoring video-streaming, terrorist/public order incidents.

Some statistics on the Games:

  • 5.3 million visitors are expected with half a million extra on Day 8.
  • On 9 days there will be more than 1million extra journeys on public transport.
  • Greenwich population will be 25% higher on Day 3.
  • At the end of an event, 10,000-20,000 people will be exiting individual venues, creating bottlenecks.

During the games, there will be major disruption for London-based workers — there is a four-step approach:

  • reduce journey requirements by avoiding planned utility works;
  • retime appointments to avoid clashes with busiest times;
  • reroute transport and logistics as access roads will be closed;
  • review transport types and use alternatives.

For its part, the regulator Ofcom has devised a Spectrum Plan for the Games, which will see the temporary re-allocation of spectrum from public bodies to cater for bandwidth demands. Spectrum from among three separate bands will come from the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), while holdings in the 2.5-2.6GHz band have been reserved for the duration of the Games. Ofcom has also conserved spectrum allocated for private mobile radio (PMR), as also spectrum available for DTTV in the 800MHz band which has not yet been sold off. Ofcom is needing all the spare frequencies it can find to cope with the 350 wireless microphones, 75 HD video streams and 780 talkback channels it expects are needed.

It is also expected that there will be greater work and school absenteeism due to large screen displays that are established right around the country. And businesses are adopting greater flexitime procedures and providing facilities in the workplace.

Organisations have also been advised to, where possible, move staff to Disaster Recovery sites and work from there during the Games. Other suggestions include checking standby generator fuel, batteries, firewall resilience, etc. Teleworking is promoted, with companies advised to plan and test the use of technology remotely by home workers.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication. Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

Related topics: Access Providers, Broadband, Cyberattack, Mobile, Security, Telecom, Wireless

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