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UK operators say networks ready for Olympics phone traffic

Vodafone touts benefits of real-time demand data, while Everything Everywhere boosts engineering workforce

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The UK’s largest mobile phone operators said they will be able to cope with the expected increase in demand on their networks during the London 2012 Olympic Games thanks to real-time data and more engineers.

According to the official London 2012 advice for businesses, mobile networks may be slowed down at peak times during the Games, despite additional capacity and coverage for mobile phone networks being put in around Games venues. The degradation of service is more likely to affect the downloading of large files or images, than voice, email and low-data traffic.

Vodafone said that it is investing more than £1.5 million a day into its network this year, with most of the investment made towards the first half of 2012 in preparation for the busy summer.

“We have accelerated network upgrade and deployment work and are in the process of optimising our network in London to ensure our customers have a great experience. We are also putting in place extra coverage in public spaces, such as Hyde Park, where we know there will be a large number of people,” a Vodafone UK spokesperson said.

The mobile operator said that it handles more than 45 terabytes (TB) of data, 90 million calls and 155 million texts on an average day.

“Obviously, we are expecting a significant increase on that level of demand, but we are experts in forecasting demand and optimising our network – in real time – to cope with high usage.

“Our network operations centre (NOC) at our headquarters in Newbury gives us real-time visibility of traffic and enables our team of engineers to dial up capacity when and where we need it. For example, on New Year’s Eve 2011, our network was comfortably handling 12,000 texts a second and we saw well over a million people log on to Facebook, through their phones, in the space of a couple of hours,” the spokesperson said.

The operator said that it has also been working with its colleagues in other countries to learn from their experiences of recent, large-scale sporting events, such as the Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand and the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa.

Everything Everywhere said that it has been preparing for London 2012 since before Orange and T-Mobile merged to create the new joint venture in the UK.

It too has analysed previous global and national events to predict the amount of demand expected on its network.

“We’ve also increased measures in place to maintain service and operational stability during the Games. Additional field maintenance resource in the areas of the country most affected are in place, alongside dedicated incident managers to ensure a very rapid response time to any service-affecting incidents.

“The joint Operators Olympic Group (JOOG) is also providing as much capacity as possible using external mobile base stations in the Olympic Park to support the number of visitors expected each day. The operators have built 30 sites across the Olympic Park, including 14 in-building solutions. At off-park venues, a further 17 temporary sites are being provided to add additional capacity,” a spokesperson for Everything Everywhere said.

Meanwhile, O2 said that it has invested £50 million in London 2012, to increase capacity of the existing network and to build new, temporary sites across the country.

"On top of that, Wi-Fi will also play a huge role for those people who will want to use data services at the Games, including Facebook and Twitter," O2’s chief operating officer Derek McManus said in a blog last year.

O2 announced plans to install free Wi-Fi access across areas of London in time for the Olympics earlier this year.

The Wi-Fi service will be a welcome back-up source for users if O2's network were to suffer another failure, following the operator's network outage earlier this month, which prevented customers from sending or receiving calls or data for around 24 hours.


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