UK operators prepare for 2012 Olympics

09 May 2012 | Kavit Majithia


        
BT is working with all UK operators to ensure network capacity meets demand during the 2012 Olympics

Mobile operators and broadcasters alike are making steep predictions for the demand of network capacity required throughout the 2012 Olympics, as London braces itself for an estimated 11 million visitors between July and August.

The BBC’s controller of business development Jane Weedon has dubbed the upcoming sporting event as “the summer of sports on steroids”. Weedon told Capacity that she expects demand of the broadcaster’s online streaming service iPlayer to soar to 1Tbps. This is 10 times the amount of traffic as was generated during the previous Olympiad in 2006, when only 65% of events were broadcasted by the BBC. This year, however, the broadcaster will be providing live coverage of nearly 100% of Olympic tournament events across its multiple streaming channels.

Meanwhile, David Dyson, CEO at Three; the UK’s largest operator by subscriber count, has said that total traffic on his company’s network stood at three million gigabytes last year. He has warned Capacity that he expects demand for data services to double in 2012, citing the Olympics as a key contributor.

The UK’s leading mobile operators are all working tirelessly behind the scenes with BT, the official communications provider of the 2012 Olympic Games, to ensure their network capacity meets with consumer demand over the course of the tournament in a working group called the Joint Olympics Operator Group (JOOG).

BT is specifically delivering fibre infrastructure in venues and other high footfall areas such as train stations and airports to support the capacity uplift required by all MNOs. Additionally, it is working with each MNO to ensure service continuity throughout the event. Restrictions, however, around brand sponsorship agreements put in place by tournament organiser, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), prevent the mobile operators from talking on record about ramping up such mobile data capacity demand.

Trefor Davies, CTO of communications solutions provider Timico, a company with alliances with both O2 and Vodafone, was able to confirm that such cooperation is taking place. “They [the UK’s large telecoms providers] are cooperating where it makes sense to provide extra network capacity. This will require massive investment,” he added.

Such efforts have been undermined by numerous delays to auction-off the spectrum necessary to launch LTE or 4G services. As a result operators in the UK have been forced to improvise ahead of the expected surge in network capacity, most notably by attempting to off-load traffic to fixed-line networks. 

Telefónica’s O2 UK outfit, for instance, is rolling out a publicly available Wifi network in advance of this summer’s tournament. It is additionally running a 4G trial in certain areas in the host city of London in preparation of Ofcom’s planned spectrum auction later this year.

Earlier this year the operator’s COO Derek McManus announced the operator had begun rolling out its publicly available Wifi network in conjunction with London’s Westminster City Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. More recently O2 also announced a tie-up with fast food chain McDonalds to roll out O2 Wifi hotspots in its UK restaurants. This built upon previous similar deals with Cafe Rouge and Strada as well as department store chain House of Fraser.

However, consumers are asked to provide personal details, such email addresses and other demographic data, when signing up to the free Wifi service. This suggests the operator is using the roll-out to help buoy its emerging O2 Media division, which conducts campaigns on behalf of advertisers, based on its subscriber data, as opposed to being a more overt revenue-driver.

O2 is also conducting its own 4G pilot, with Samsung as a hardware provider, in London ahead of the Olympics as a means of testing the robustness of LTE solutions available during times when heavy network usage is expected.

As part of the pilot, over 1,000 participants have been equipped with 4G-compatible USB dongles in an area stretching from London’s Hyde Park area to The O2 stadium in the Greenwich of the city in a trial taking 25 cell masts.

The trial network has been deployed using equipment supplied again by Nokia Siemens Networks for both the radio and core network elements. Meanwhile, backhaul for the initiative has been provided using microwave radio equipment supplied by Cambridge Broadband Networks and NEC.

O2’s trial network is reported to provide download speeds of up to 100Mbps with participants ranging from department chains stores such as John Lewis to smaller SMEs as well as technology enthusiasts.

One participant in the trial, who also works in the telecoms infrastructure business, contacted by Capacity reported accessing mobile data speeds of up to 60Mb per minute. “When you think that 500Mb is currently the fair usage limit on most monthly ‘unlimited data’ tariffs you can see how much operators are going to have to provide a lot more capacity,” he said.