London 2012 will be the first ever Olympic Games to offer public WiFi access inside the competition venues, thanks to a new high-density network from BT.
At the last Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, the iPhone was a relatively new device and the iPad had not even been invented yet. Today, however, more than 50 percent of phones in the UK are smartphones, meaning that the demand for data services is a great deal higher.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has been working with BT and other mobile network operators since 2009, as part of the Joint Operators Olympic Group (JOOG), to increase the capacity of 3G mobile networks.
Even with this extra investment, however, mobile operators will not be able to guarantee the kind of service levels people require for downloading data.
BT has therefore teamed up with Cisco, which is the official network equipment provider for London 2012, to construct the world's largest high-density WiFi network in the Olympic Park – based on Cisco's experience of providing WiFi at the US Super Bowl in February.
The WiFi network will consist of nearly 1,000 access points across nine Olympic venues, including the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Centre and Velodrome as well as all public areas. BT claims that this will allow users to send emails, texts, tweets and use the internet to their hearts' content.
The service will be free for BT, O2 and Tesco Mobile customers, but others will have to buy a BT Openzone access voucher.
“There's an expectation among spectators that they will have an enriched experience in terms of their engagement with these major events,” said Howard Dikel, director of the BT London 2012 Delivery Programme.
“We're providing levels of access and capability that have not been seen in previous Olympic games, and we expect people to engage with that well ahead of their engagement with the event itself.”
Within the main stadium, BT is using Cisco's Connected Stadium solution, which works by dividing the stands into segments. Each segment is tested for wireless LAN interference using Cisco's CleanAir technology, which automatically detects radio interference from rogue access points or camera equipment, and is capable of mapping its source.
The technology then identifies the frequency with the least amount of interference and deploys services in that spectrum band. This is done separately for each segment, so you could end up with a stadium where each segment is operating on a different frequency.
“You try to have neighbouring segments in different channels,” said Edwin Paalvast, Cisco's vice president of service providers for EMEA, speaking to Techworld about the company's Connected Stadium technology at the Cisco Live Europe conference earlier this year.
“If you do this very cleverly and use different antenna technology, some antennas actually cover anybody who falls out of certain segments, and others are directed towards certain segments.”
All the antennas are linked up to one big virtual network, so if people move between different segments in the stadium, it automatically detects their devices and hands provision over the the next available antenna – just like a mobile network.
Cisco has also worked to identify characteristic behaviours of certain smartphones, so that the network can be tuned to support these devices. Paalvast said the company is using MIMO (Multiple Input/Multiple Output) technology, which essentially uses the reflections of transmissions to improve communication performance.
“If a person in front of you stands up or there is an obstacle in the way, the signal might bounce off the walls from multiple sides, so when it reaches your device it can work out that those signals are coming from the same source, and piece them together to figure out what the signal was,” he said.
All of this network activity will be monitored back at LOCOG's Technology Operations Centre (TOC), to identify the source of any major interference. The TOC will also monitor social networks, to see if users are complaining about connectivity problems.
BT can then deploy “floor walkers” to speak directly to users in the particular area of the stadium where interference is occurring, or even launch denial-of-service attacks against the rogue access point, in order to stop it working and prevent interference.
On top of the public WiFi network, BT is also providing fibre-to-the-premises broadband to over 2,800 apartments in the athlete's village, offering download speeds of up to 100Mbps, as well as live information and statistics to journalists via Atos's Commentator Information System, and broadcast traffic in and out of the Olympic Park.
All of this voice and data traffic will be carried over a single integrated network, consisting of 80,000 connections across 94 locations. At peak times during the Games, this network will be carrying 60 Gigabits of information - the equivalent of 3,000 photographs every second, according to BT.
“Technology is now a part of the team,” said Dame Kelly Holmes, recalling that it was thanks to finish line scans that she was awarded an Olympic gold medal for winning a race by a tenth of a second. “All I can say is, thank God for technology.”
Despite earlier warnings that the high demand on BT's Olympic Park network could disrupt services elsewhere, this shouldn't be a problem, according to Roel Louwhoff, chief executive of BT Operate, which is responsible for deploying and running communications services over BT's core network and systems.
“A successful Olympic Games for BT will mean that we're not only delivering the Olympic Games successfully across the globe. It also means business as usual for everyone else, and there will be no issues whatsoever,” he said.