London Olympics Had there been a functioning mobile network in Greece in 490BC, the messenger Pheidippides wouldn’t have had to run from Marathon to Athens, only to breathe his last as he delivered news of victory over the Persians.
The modern reenactment of his feat in the Olympic marathon would have been a much shorter event, although the sight of 100 puny men competing to send a text message might not be the spectator attraction the broadcasters require.
Easier to get corporate sponsors, though.
Nothing but the booth
Fast-forward 2,437 years and mobile telecommunications networks of a sort were already delivering up-to-the-minute results in 1948, the last time the Games were staged in London.
Red telephone boxes along the marathon route were commandeered by the organising committee so that spotters could watch the race through the little glass window panes and report on the runners’ progress.
Media offensive: Sponsor BT will plant its OpenZone hotspots
all over the city. Pic credit: BT
In 2012 BT, sensitive to the fact that every tourist visiting London takes at least one picture of a companion leaning out of a phone box, is repainting 400 of the traditional kiosks near Olympic venues.
Since BT is the official telecommunications supplier to the games, however, this is by no means the limit of its involvement, as we shall see.
Telecoms project management has become one of the biggest team sports in the Olympic Games. For example, the mobile network around London’s Olympic Park will feature half a million BT OpenZone hotspots in the highest-density Wi-Fi zone ever created.
Contrast this with the technology needs of the Atlanta Games in 1996, the first such event to have its own website.
The first “Internet Olympics” had precious little mobile data, with IBM managing capacity for 9,000 mobile phones and 2,500 pagers (ask your dad). IBM created a “surf shack” in the village with 30 computers for those of the 16,500 athletes who had email. It would have been easier to run home with the news.
The Atlanta Olympics would hardly have supported the communications needs of the skeet shooting in Sydney four years later. IBM had installed about $100m worth of technology infrastructure to support the entire Atlanta games; in Australia, that much was spent on upgrading mobile networks alone.
Mobiles had become commonplace and so Telstra, Optus, Hutchison and Vodafone all added capacity to their networks, employing Ericsson (for GSM) and Nortel (for CDMA) to install 200 microcells in the Olympic Park.
Even then, the target figure was 2,000 concurrent calls (and mobile data at this time meant no more than an SMS). The marathon was followed by mobile base stations, much to the relief of the phone-box users of Sydney.
An exciting new technology called GPRS was being piloted, with the prospect that it could soon be used to upload pictures almost in real time. And instead of balancing loads on the network every hour, traffic was – for the first time in Australia – monitored every minute.