London gears up for most wired Olympics ever

LONDON – In the wake of Beijing’s Olympics, London is preparing for what will be the most demanding multimedia Olympics ever in 2012.

The U.K.’s home broadcaster, the BBC, and operator BT are among the many stakeholders figuring out how to provide for a record amount of coverage for the Games as well as build a massive Internet Protocol network to support broadcasters and journalists from around the world.

The BBC has seen exponential growth in interest in Web-based Olympics coverage, said Ben Gallop, head of interactive for BBC Sport. Gallop was one of several presenters at a forum last week discussing media technology for the 2012 Olympics.

For the 2004 games in Athens, the BBC delivered some 2.4 million video clips through its Web site. For the Beijing games, that number of clips was watched just for the opening ceremony alone, he said. All told, the BBC delivered 38 million clips, “an enormous amount,” Gallop said. “The Olympics have always been a big driver for us,” he said.

While only 13 per cent of people in the U.K. watched the Olympics on their computers, people continue to embrace new video services such as YouTube, which didn’t exist in 2004, Gallop said. For Beijing, the BBC provided six streams of embedded video coverage on its Web site, but the BBC wants to expand that, Gallop said.

The BBC is also looking toward IPTV technology to provide more high-definition video streams. The U.K. is scheduled to shut off analog TV broadcasts in 2012, with London being one of the final areas to switchover to digital.

A thorny question is whether Internet service providers and operators will have enough capacity to handle those services. Those entities will need a clear business case before investing in infrastructure to provide more bandwidth, said Geoff Hall, chief technology officer for Nortel for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Nortel is responsible for providing BT with network infrastructure equipment for the games.

The same concern applies to mobile devices. Technologies such as WiMAX, which could provide fast mobile broadband, haven’t taken hold yet since the U.K. is still working on proposals to auction off unused UHF spectrum that will be freed up when TV goes all-digital.

Four years from now, it’s probable that 3G (third-generation) and HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) data services will be relied on, said Steve Reynolds, chairman of the Mobile Data Association, a trade group. That will necessitate infrastructure upgrades to deliver data, he said. But 3G and HSDPA are tested and stable technologies. “We don’t want to reinvent anything,” Reynolds said. “Let’s stick with the tech we’ve got.”

BT is the main communications technology supplier for the games. BT is working on an “industrial-strength” fiber network that meets ISO/IEC 27000 security standards for critical networking capability, said Stuart Hill, vice president for BT’s London 2012 Delivery Program.

The scale of BT’s work is immense, Hill said. BT is responsible for all fixed, mobile, wide and local area networking, network security and transmission. That includes 16,500 fixed-line telephones, support for 14,000 mobile phones and 1,000 desks with broadband and fixed telephones in the International Broadcast Center/Main Press Center. BT will lay more than 2,800 miles of cabling, as well as install some 1,000 Wi-Fi access points around venues, Hill said.

When the games come, the networks have to work without a glitch. “If you’ve got no signal, just remember Stuart Hill that day,” he said. “Just remember that I did have a good career until that point.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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