Mobile phone meltdown at men’s Olympic road cycling event could have been avoided

Rapidly deployable solutions to provide fast wireless connectivity for mobile events such as cycling are available, says Wi-Fi solutions provider Xirrus

Mobile phone meltdown at men’s Olympic road cycling event could have been avoided

Data hungry spectators are being blamed by The International Olympic Committee for overloading the mobile phone network during the Olympic men’s cycling road race on Saturday 29 July 2012. 

Spectators accessing data services, including Twitter, on their smartphones used up so much network capacity that it allegedly disrupted the transmission of performance and timing information being sent over the GPRS network from chips on the riders’ bikes.

According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, the Joint Olympic Operators Group (comprising the major mobile phone networks providing wireless coverage for the Games) blamed the London 2012 organisers LOCOG for not warning them in advance that the mobile phone network would be vitally important in transmitting data from the chips on the bikes.

The Group said that if they had been notified in advance they could have provided extra wireless capacity along the route and prioritised traffic to ensure the data from the chips was given priority, the Guardian reported.

Commenting on the reported mobile network meltdown, Sean Larner, VP international sales at Wi-Fi solutions provider Xirrus, told Wireless that the situation could have been avoided if the Olympics had followed the example of the recent Tour de France.

In that instance, the French Operation Division of mobile phone operator Orange provided the Tour de France, NBC Sports, government dignitaries, and thousands of media professionals with reliable, high-performance wireless connectivity using Xirrus equipment.

Besides all the event organisers, the network supported 125 TV broadcasters, 2,300 journalists, 70 radio stations, and 450 newspapers transferring enormous amounts of media-rich files from the Tour’s start village, timing locations, sprint locations, media centres (pictured) and finish lines.

‘We deploy what we call our RDKs (rapid deployment kits) which allow us to set up a network anywhere. You don’t even necessarily need fixed power, as it can be run off solar power, for example,’ said Larner.

Xirrus’ solution involves setting up an array (or access point) which can contain 2, 4, 8, or 16 radios inside, depending on the power requirement needed. The array sits on a tripod and can supply a wide range of wireless connectivity over a long distance. 

‘The array provides the same kind of functionality that someone like Cisco would set up – it’s a standalone switch if you like,’ explained Larner. ‘It can do everything that needs to be done in terms of security, access control, looking for rogue devices coming on to the network – all integrated into one device. Our array-based architecture gives four times the coverage any other access point and eight times the speed. That means fewer arrays are required, along with less switching, cabling and general infrastructure.’

Larner said that Xirrus' Wi-Fi architecture tends to be very successful where a plethora of people are trying to access the internet at the same time, as it has the power and range to accommodate thousands of devices simultaneously and it can be scaled up easily to meet demand. 

Xirrus equipment has been used for large events such as the South by South West Festival in Austin, Texas and by large corporates, such as Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP and Nokia, for their major events.  

Larner sees stadiums as a major opportunity going forward. ‘It’s about providing the “fan experience”, but the challenging area is providing Wi-Fi capacity in the bowl,’ he says.

The bulk of devices being used by fans are now smartphones all trying to access the limited amount of spectrum available in the 2.4GHz unlicensed Wi-Fi band. The beamforming capability in Xirrus’ arrays allows it to direct the beam very precisely within the stadium – cutting it up into thin slices – to provide enough capacity to everyone within the stadium, while at the same time avoiding interference.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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