O2’s UK network outage heralds an Olympian challenge for telcos

12 Jul 2012

The Olympic Park sporting complex in east London

O2’s network outage that has affected thousands of its customers in the UK for two days running has raised concerns that the UK’s telecoms infrastructure might buckle under the weight of traffic during the upcoming Olympics in London.

Telefónica-owned O2 has said its 2G network has been restored, its 3G network is in the process of being restored and customers should be able to make and take calls.

The outages began at lunchtime yesterday and many could not use voice or data services.

The outages have raised concerns, however, that the spike in traffic during the upcoming Olympics may cause problems across the UK’s telecoms infrastructure.

Many tech companies, including Samsung and Panasonic, as well as companies like Visa, which are trialling near field communication (NFC) m-commerce technologies, view the 2012 Olympics as a technological testbed.

Fixed and mobile concern for UK’s telecoms networks during Olympics

“The huge influx of visitors to London ahead of the games, will cause network traffic spikes, putting pressure on the UK’s mobile networks, which already have a poor reputation compared to others in Western Europe,” said Steven Hartley, practice leader, Ovum Telecoms Strategy.

“While UK mobile operators claim to be prepared, they have not yet given indication of the scale of their plans.

“Mobile capacity upgrades at key transport and crowd hotspots will undoubtedly take place before the Games. However, if there is a major public transport failure, the spilling over of people from a location where high network traffic has been anticipated to less well-prepared peripheral cells could prove disastrous.

“The national perspective is both a fixed and mobile concern. The BBC, the UK’s state broadcaster, has announced plans to stream live video of 27 different events on its website on the two Saturdays during the Games.

“BT has conceded that it has brought its fixed broadband investments forward by 6–12 months to cope with such demand. However, where that demand appears will not be easy to predict, which makes fixed and mobile preparations difficult to assess. For example, when a British athlete reaches a final, local support will cause a concentration of demand from their hometown, as well as an increase across the nation,” Hartley pointed out.

“We hope that our concerns are unfounded and the Games pass without telecoms incident. Connectivity at the Olympic Park can at least be predicted and planned based on a greenfield implementation of the latest technologies and architectures.

“However, the UK as a whole must rely on previous investments to carry it through – and these have been less than optimal in the mobile space,” Hartley warned.

London Olympics image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years