London 2012: Countdown to network meltdown?

London 2012: Countdown to network meltdown? This week marks the beginning of the final countdown to the 2012 Olympics – as they put it on the news broadcasts yesterday morning, it’s now a matter of days, not years, to the ‘greatest show on Earth’. Ever since London was announced as the host city back in 2005, our great metropolis has been preparing to put on a spectacle, and an extraordinary amount of investment has been made in building the venues and preparing the city’s infrastructure.

There’s been a huge amount of publicity around the improvements being made to the road and rail networks, and the latest reports still highlight these as great areas of concern. But whilst the public transport network is one of the top issues for the average Londoner, how many have stopped to think what may happen to our communications infrastructure?
Over the course of the Olympics, there will be a huge influx of visitors to London and the other Olympic sites, which will place an incredible burden on the telecoms networks and the capacity available around the key venues. This has meant significant enhancement and expansion of the Airwave network used by the emergency services, as well as the creation of a completely new private mobile radio (PMR) network for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) staff and volunteers, to ensure they have uninterrupted communications across all games locations.
But what about the rest of us? What about Joe Public attending the Olympic events or just trying to carry on business as usual in London?
The Olympics will quite rightly be a focal point for the city next summer, but business will not stop whilst this is happening. According to the London Development Agency, the city generates over £250bn per year and there’s no way that the city can afford a degradation in its communications infrastructure whilst coping with the extra Olympic traffic. 

However, in addition to the increased numbers of users during the Olympics, there will be significant changes in user behaviour that further threaten to overload the communications infrastructure:

• Transport for London are actively encouraging home working in a bid to ease the strain on public transport, but increasing pressure on broadband networks and VPN connectivity
• A lack of hotel rooms for business visitors will mean more phone calls, more video conferencing and more online meetings / webinars
• There will be more international traffic due to all the international visitors calling their home countries
• There will also be many people streaming live events to their desktop PCs and smartphones, as well as a surge in the use of social media to discuss and comment on the Olympics, and for geo-location updates (e.g. ‘just checked in at the Olympic stadium’) 

There’s no doubt that mobile data services usage during London 2012 will be the greatest of any sporting event, ever. The availability of high-speed mobile broadband, combined with the penetration of sophisticated end-user devices such as smartphones and tablets, means that more and more people are following and watching live events on their mobile devices. Throw into the mix just over two weeks of intense sporting action and the network operators face a ‘perfect storm’ that threatens to cause network Armageddon.
Operators have been struggling to come to terms with the ‘capacity crunch’ for the last 1-2 years anyway, and the Olympics is really going to amplify the problem but for a focused period of only 16 days. And within that period there will also be even greater peaks of communications around high profile Olympic events such as the opening ceremony or 100m final.
Whilst Transport for London has one year to complete the remaining upgrades to public transport, the telecoms operators have the same challenge to increase their network capacity and implement appropriate policy and bandwidth controls, in order to ensure existing customers and inbound visitors have uninterrupted access to their services. The good news is that for those operators who make this investment, the London Olympics should prove to be a huge money-spinner and provide the foundation and capacity for further data services growth in the future. For those who get it wrong, this could be a very costly two weeks indeed…

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