BT, operators lean on Wi-Fi offload to handle London Olympics network traffic

With the 2012 London Olympics getting under way, operators and telecom service providers argue that London's Olympic Park itself has a wireless system capable of handling enough network traffic for a large city.

BT has installed 500,000 Wi-Fi access points in the Olympic Park in London.

BT has installed 500,000 Wi-Fi access points in the Olympic Park and London ahead of the games, in an effort to offload traffic from cellular networks, according to Bloomberg, with O2 UK, Everything Everywhere and Vodafone offering their customers free access to around 4,000 of these hotspots.

"It is smart to be using this Wi-Fi as an offload mechanism," Charles Golvin, a Forrester Research analyst, told Bloomberg. "If you can steer one customer over to Wi-Fi, you are taking traffic off your network and liberating someone else to use this newly opened capacity."

However, the games organisers have warned businesses that mobile traffic may be slowed at times of peak demand, especially for files containing photos and videos. "Voice, email and low-data traffic are unlikely to be affected, but it may be difficult to download larger content such as files or images," according to a booklet distributed by London 2012.

Stuart Newstead, chairman of the Mobile Experience Group, which represents UK mobile operators Olympics TV programmers, said that the service providers have done as much as possible.

"At peak time when one set of spectators leaves and another arrives you will have between 200,000 to 300,000 people on site," he told the BBC. "It's as well prepared as it can be. The key to the planning has been co-operation between the operators to maximise the laws of physics, allowing a far denser configuration of masts and antennas than normal to ensure as much capacity as possible."

The network infrastructure is expected to carry 60GB every second, with a capacity four times that of the Beijing games, according to BT, adding that it has installed enough fibre optic cable to stretch from London to New York.

Regardless of these preparations, Ben Wood, research director with London-based consulting firm CCS Insight, questions whether enough has been done to serve so many accessing mobile and Wi-Fi networks at once.

"There is no doubt that operators have put extensive planning into this, but there will be huge problems with cellular communications during the Olympics," Wood told Bloomberg. "Cellular technology is a finite resource and that is complicated by the fact that this is the most multimedia-interactive Olympics that we have ever seen."

These concerns have been heightened by the recent network crash experienced by O2 that left users unable to make calls or send messages.

It has now been revealed that during this outage period, Everything Everywhere offered technical assistance to O2 and is now studying the financial feasibility of helping its rivals during future breakdowns, according to Everything Everywhere CEO Olaf Swantee.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this BBC News article

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