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How will mobile networks cope during the Olympics?

August 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

With a massive influx of people, all toting mobile phones and tablets, how will the mobile data networks keep pace?

“Be realistic, demand the impossible!” – Che Guevara

After seven years of waiting the London Olympics has finally rolled into town. Opinions have steadily polarised about the event with optimists and pessimists hardening their positions like Republicans and Democrats, Capulets and Montagues… even Apple and Google fanboys. Yet there is one area where both sides are united: demand for fast and reliable mobile networks for the duration of the Games.  Is it realistic?

The Challenge

Look at the Olympics in pure numerical terms and the size of this challenge emerges:

  • The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) expects the capital’s 8.2 million residents to be swollen by an extra four million over the Olympic period.
  • Analysts estimate the Olympic Park alone will need to process 60 gigabits of data every second – equivalent to 3,000 photographs or the capacity of over 6,000 10Mbit home broadband connections.

These are figures far beyond any infrastructural challenge London has faced before and yet they exclude the fact that the UK’s data demands are already pushing networks to breaking point.

The most recent example of this happened just two weeks ago as O2’s data network suffered a 24 hour outage. The integral nature of mobile data in today’s society was highlighted by the fact that the blackout didn’t just affect the man on the street, but several key emergency and transport services. Even London’s Barclays Cycle Hire scheme was not immune as it uses the network to process payments. In June O2 admitted making calls was now only the fifth most frequent use of a smartphone.

It has been coming. Industry regulator Ofcom reports mobile data consumption per person has doubled in the last 12 months. Three backs this up saying the average amount of monthly data used by its contract customers has leapt from 450MB in summer 2011 to 1.1GB. It added that customers with premium smartphones average in excess of 1.5GB per month. “There is no sign of this slowing down,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson with COO Graham Baxter describing the last four years as a “data traffic explosion”.

Furthermore the strain on social networks is already beginning to tell. On Thursday tweets about the Olympics brought down Twitter 24 hours before the opening ceremony. Should a similar fate await any of our major networks during the Games, London legislature states it is only permissible to carry out major construction work on the streets between 00:00 and 06:00.

Given UK roll-out of LTE, 3G’s significantly faster next iteration, has been delayed until late 2013 to the significant detriment of the nation’s economy it feels as if we’re about to reap what we’ve sewn.

The Response

It is said the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one and thankfully it is a step every major UK provider of wireless communication has taken…

This is a sample, read the full feature on ITProPortal

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