BT’s Lessons Learned at London Olympics Provide Roadmap for Tokyo 2020

It has been more than two years since the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, but the technological benefits are still paying dividends. With Tokyo set to host the Games in 2020, BT Japan CTO Phillip Morris took the stage at CEATEC Japan 2014  this week to provide an up-close look at the most “digitally and socially connected Games ever” and how Tokyo can build on the massive infrastructure and security deployed in London.

BT Japan’s Phillip Morris during his presentation at CEATEC

BT Japan’s Phillip Morris during his presentation at CEATEC

As the Official Communications Services Partner of the London 2012 Games, BT was responsible for connecting dozens of venues together, providing WiFi connectivity for both operations and fans as well as Web and network security.

“[London Organising Committee Chair] Lord Sebastian Coe said, ‘Staging the Olympic and Paralympic Games is one of the biggest logistical peacetime challenges a country will ever face,’” Morris said., “So, outside of a war, there really isn’t a bigger challenge than putting on an Olympic Games, … but, from the BT perspective, the Games went perfectly.”

The task is likely to be even more significant in Tokyo: the total worldwide audience is expected to grow from 4.8 billion in 2012 to 6 billion for the 2020 Games, according to Morris.

London Games by the Numbers
Among the highlights of BT’s efforts in London were 80,000 connections across 94 locations, up to 60 Gb of information carried per second, 1,550 wireless-access points, 5,500 km of internal cabling, 16,500 telephone lines, 14,000 mobile SIM cards, 10,000 cable-TV outlets, and more than 10,000 man-hours.

Many of the connectivity requirements skyrocketed from the original estimates. For example, London won its Olympics bid in 2005 (two years prior to Apple’s first iPhone release), when smartphones had yet to take hold on a wide scale. As a result, BT’s original estimate of 400 wireless-access points throughout the Olympic venues quadrupled to 1,600. In addition, the venues became even more data-hungry to feed fan, broadcaster, and operations needs, resulting in the originally planned 10 Mbps connection growing to 10 Gbps.

“It is an ongoing process from Day 1,” said Morris. “And it is a journey that never ends until the Games [conclude].”

Record-Breaking HD WiFi
In London, BT built out the largest high-density WiFi installation in the world at Olympic Park (which remains today) and carried out saturation tests of the public WiFi service. These were followed by live trials at the two rehearsals for the Opening Ceremony with more than 10K spectators in attendance. Furthermore, detailed heat maps were created to model and spot risks and potential overloading well before it became an issue.

Thanks to the wireless-network–management system and the use of the prewritten templates, reconfiguration of all 60 Olympic Park wireless-access controllers took just three minutes on average. Historically, such an operation might have required up to 10 engineering hours, plus the time and trouble of moving between the 60 wireless-access points. This also provided BT with increased flexibility once it came time to make changes between the Olympics and Paralympics.

“That was critically important, because many of the stadiums underwent physical changes between the Olympics and Paralympics, so the [WiFi-]coverage model had to change,” said Morris. “Those kinds of dynamic changes are very important because there is only a 10- to 12-day gap [between the two events]. That two-week period was very intensive to make sure everything was handled appropriately.”

Most-Connected Games = Massive Web-Security Challenges
The London Games were the first fully converged IP games, making Web security crucial. Nonetheless, BT experienced no breaches or downtime. Analysis of 2.31 billion events produced 77 incident tickets, and 212 million malicious connection attempts were blocked. In addition, The London 2012 Website experienced more than 460 million visits across the Games and included 275 years’ worth of audio and 504 days’ of HD-video playback.

The peak came on Super Saturday (Aug. 4, when Team GB recorded its most successful Olympics in 104 years), when 128 million events were detected and BT prevented an average of 11,000 malicious requests per second.

“Even though we literally had half the attacks on one day, we had zero penetrations and no effect on the Games whatsoever,” Morris reported. “But that required a huge amount of defense.”

A Helping Hand to Tokyo?
BT was obligated per its agreement with the IOC to assist the Official Communications Services Partner for the following two Olympic Games, in Sochi and Rio de Janeiro. For Rio, Embratel will serve as the primary telecommunications sponsor and has elected not to use BT’s data from London (BT used Bell Media Consulting, which had served as telecommunications sponsor for Vancouver 2010). As for Tokyo, the official sponsors have yet to be determined; the IOC is expected to send out RFPs near the end of this year or the beginning of 2015.

“Here in Tokyo, the TOCOG has just been formed. The request for proposals has not gone out yet, so we have no idea who the vendors will be,” said Morris. “You can guess among some of the big vendors who it will likely be, but, other than that, we can’t do much until people start responding to the RFPs.”