London Olympics have been a proving ground for network design

Panicky talk of networks melting during the London Olympics would appear to have been little more than alarmist.

So far, the news wires have remained quiet on the feared disruption the millions of extra visitors, and the 5,000 accredited journalists, would have on the fixed and mobile networks.

The "biggest" story so far are complaints that the cellular networks couldn't cope with the traffic generated during the Olympic men's cycling road race on the openeing weekend of the Games. This event--which should have been easily won by Team Great Britain--but wasn't, should, according to those that intensely follow this sport, have been equipped with a mobile Wi-Fi network as used during the Tour de France (which was won by a Brit).

This leads me to think that the lack of such a Wi-Fi network might just be the cause for Team GB's poor showing in this Olympics event.

Regardless of this slightly skewed view, planning for what the impact might be on mobile networks began in 2009, with operators even being asked to consider queues outside the venues and how much mobile traffic might be generated while visitors waited to enter the Olympic Park.

The conclusion was that the volume of traffic during the London 2012 Olympics would be10 times greater than that at similar events in 2010.

To cope with this level of traffic the operators opted to dramatically increase the number of base stations within the Olympic Park, and, by careful network planning, looked to avoid overlap so as to enable all 3G channels to be reused within each cell site, according to Computer Weekly.

To test whether this would work in large sports arenas, the operators decided to use the giant Twickenham stadium (the home of English Rugby and the scene of many famous victories, and the odd defeats by ruffians from far-off countries) and boost the existing four cells sites at the stadium to 40.

One outcome from this testing was a need for signal boosters to overcome interference, as well as bringing the antennae closer to the cell sites so as to make the coverage footprint more concentrated. 

Using traditional antennae actually made the situation worse by weakening the definition of the cell boundaries. Instead, they opted to use flat-panel antennae which had been designed specifically for use in stadia--but not used on such a massive scale--which stopped roll-off and provided improved coverage without bleeding into others.

But what has happened so far, given the 2012 Olympics has been running for more than a week?

According to measurements collected by netowrk optimisation firm Allot Communications, which began monitoring global traffic statistics from mobile and fixed networks around the globe starting Friday July 27, volumes are up considerably.

The firm reports:

  • Instant Messaging increased 182 per cent on average during the opening ceremony; WhatsApp was out front with a massive 430 per cent increase.
  • Online video increased and peaked at 217 per cent during the first official day of competition, with dedicated sites such as ESPN, BBC Sports and CNTV leading the pack.
  • Facebook traffic posted an 87 per cent increase during the first two days of the Olympics.
  • YouTube traffic hit 40 per cent during the first official day of competition.

Notably, Allot said, is that the 2012 Olympics is the first to be streamed live over the Internet, leading to people watching and discussing the games anywhere, anytime via mobile devices.

If the next 10 days of this Olympics, from a network stability perspective, continue to prove as successful as the first week, then the energy expended by the planners will have been well spent.--Paul