Many people consider the football World Cup to be greatest show on earth given its global audience and the drama that it creates. Yet when the Olympic Games kick off in London next year, a broadcast audience of more than four billion people will be watching via the Games network architecture.
When you factor in some 10 million people visiting the 2012 website, around 27,000 media writing reports and downloading those all-important winning photographs, plus hundreds of thousands more London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) employees, volunteers, athletes and organisations all using the communications network in some way, you begin to grasp the sheer enormity of the task at hand.
As Neil Crockett, MD 2012, Cisco UK and Ireland explains: ‘This makes London 2012 the equivalent of 46 World Championships held at the same time and means the infrastructure will need to be 35 times more capable than that of Beijing 2008.’
For its part, Cisco is assisting the delivery of London 2012 with the provision of resilient and secure borderless network architecture. In a nutshell, this means providing a secure infrastructure, large enough to carry all voice, video and data traffic for the Games, connecting nearly 100 locations in the UK including 34 competition venues and stadiums, 20 further venues such as the Olympic Village and operations centre and approximately 50 other spectator and athlete sites.
‘With the sheer size of the network, the main concern has always been security. The network has to be secure and highly resilient and ready to go live without hitch on
27 July 2012,’ adds Crockett.
One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that emergency services and associated personnel have the communications tools they need to carry out duties during the Games. According to Kevin Taylor, head of Olympic communications projects for the Metropolitan Police Service, this has involved substantial enhancement of the national Airwave radio system and expansion of control room services in the main Olympic areas.
With the Airwave contract valued at approximately £40m and covering enhancements in London, Dorset, Thames Valley, Hertfordshire, Surrey and Essex, Taylor says additional control room work, mainly on ICCS services, was valued at around £10m and has been commissioned for London and Dorset, the areas where most events will be held.
Other than that it’s been business as usual, with relatively minor additions for control rooms and additional resourcing, he says. ‘There has been very little change to the overall goals to date,’ explains Taylor. ‘A thorough needs analysis was included during the planning for each project and these are checked regularly with operational colleagues and assistant commissioner Chris Allison, in his capacity as national Olympic security coordinator.’
Unlike some previous Olympic hosts, Taylor says the UK already has considerable existing capacity on sound communication technology platforms. As such, the strategy has been one of enhancement of these existing systems and services, rather than of replacement or purchase.
For national services like Airwave, this was also essential to ensure the integration of Olympic traffic with ‘business as usual’ services and to allow for common command and control in the operational areas.
‘Purchase or rental of new services was considered but was rejected on these grounds, and on grounds of cost, deliverability and security,’ adds Taylor.
However, the Airwave Olympic project did require additional spectrum to meet its capacity targets.
As the lead agency for the project, the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) negotiated this with Ofcom and other public sector spectrum holders – notably the MoD and the Department of Health – as well as hiring spectrum from other private sector sources.
According to Airwave UK’s services director David Sangster, the network has two roles to play in London 2012.
Airwave will be the first ever official private mobile radio (PMR) services provider for an Olympic and Paralympic Games with Airwave designing and building a completely new network on behalf of LOCOG across all the 2012 Games venues.
This new network, called Apollo, has been fully operational since May 2011 and will be used by LOCOG staff and volunteers to allow them to remain in contact with one another.
‘It uses the same TETRA technology as the primary Airwave Network, but is operationally separate,’ says Sangster.
Secondly, the primary Airwave Network used by the emergency services is being upgraded. ‘To cope with heavy usage in a small area, all 312 Airwave base stations in London and the Home Counties have been re-tuned to increase their capacity, making sure that the additional critical communications anticipated during the 2012 Games can be supported,’ adds Sangster.
In addition to this, the increased usage and new Apollo Network has meant that Airwave has had to secure spectrum for use in a short time period and is responsible for the training of 18,000 volunteers who will be using the Apollo Network and radios.
He says that Apollo is already being used between now and the opening ceremony as part of the test events series to make sure everything goes to plan.
Crockett says Cisco is also working with LOCOG on all testing between now and the Games, including the upcoming test events.
‘Testing is scheduled in three stages,’ he says. ‘One in Summer 2011, one through the autumn and one in spring 2012. Then, 50-60 days before the Games, LOCOG will conduct a week-long test, simulating live sports and real problem scenarios to test the network’s resilience. In total, over 20,000 hours will be spent testing the network this year alone.’
The Apollo Network will be centred in the Olympic Park, but will also provide coverage in all the 2012 Games venues from Weymouth to Old Trafford.
‘Mobile base stations will follow long-range events such as the cycling road races to ensure that the network is available everywhere that the competitors and spectators will be,’
‘New base stations have been built and the primary Airwave Network re-tuned to increase its capacity to anticipate the increased numbers of emergency services personnel based in and around London for the 2012 Games.’
With a project of such magnitude there was always likely to be a few changes along the way, and one of the more unusual requests that’s popped up involves providing coverage for the road race “bubble” of main cyclists.
To do that, Airwave had to subcontract in light aircraft that will fly over the bubble and provide a seamless radio coverage service.
As LOCOG was also still unsure of quite how many users and radio terminals it would need for the event, it sent members of its own staff and Airwave’s to Vancouver to speak to their organising committee and find out how they’d managed to pull it off.
With an event on the scale of London 2012 some of the changes, such as moving one venue from Villa Park to Coventry, have naturally also thrown up problems around things like planning permission for building network infrastructure.
Airwave has also had to increase the scale of many of its services - such as the management and distribution of radios and the agreed times for fixing and replacing terminal