London Prepares For Olympic Wireless Traffic Congestion

Approximately 4 billion people will watch the opening ceremony of the games of the 30th Olympiad, to be held in London from 27 July to 12 August. With the world’s eyes firmly fixed on the U.K. capital, organisers are under huge pressure to maintain the high standards set in Beijing, Athens, and Sydney.

However, there are serious doubts about whether this will happen. With the torch about to arrive at the £500 million stadium in Stratford, two key questions remain unanswered. Have the organisers’ preparations been adequate? And, how will the event affect the day-to-day running of the city?

For many months, the press been voicing concerns about whether London’s infrastructure will be able to handle the huge influx of people expected. Much of this media attention has focussed specifically on the city’s public transport system, but other areas also could prove vulnerable.

A Hertz Of Prevention

Earlier this year, Ofcom, the U.K.’s communications regulatory body, enacted plans to ensure that sufficient mobile spectrum would be made available to satisfy the massive surge in wireless traffic, which is predicted to more than double during the Olympics. Several factors will contribute to the expected wireless congestion:

  • Broadcast equipment from local, national, and international radio and TV channels involved in reporting on the games: About 20,000 media representatives will attend the event. They will be using wireless microphones (requiring 200 kHz of bandwidth per channel), in-ear monitors (requiring a bandwidth of around 300 kHz), talkback intercom systems (requiring 200 kHz per channel), and audio distribution systems, as well as bandwidth-heavy video and audio links. High-end broadcast camera equipment such as wireless digital cameras relies on 10-MHz channels around the 2.3-GHz frequency band.
  • Use of wireless communication equipment by sports officials, security operatives, and other personnel: The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games & Paralympic Games will be using private mobile radio (PMR) systems in the UHF or VHF band before and during the event.
  • Additional bandwidth consumption: The 5 million predicted visitors coming to London from around the globe will be using their own wireless devices.

According to Stephen Hartley, practice leader at telecom analyst Ovum, London’s spectrum is already among the most highly used in the world, and the huge influx of people into the city this summer will compound this congestion.

Mobile operators hope the Games will encourage their subscribers to make even greater use of the multimedia services they offer, such as watching highlights from each day’s contests. So, there could be a behavioural change to factor in as well as the sheer increase in traffic.

Anticipating Trouble

Hartley expects wireless activity to increase in key locations. The official venues represent quite a low risk, as they are nearly all newly built and should use efficient architectures. Likewise, the media centres have seen heavy investment to ensure enough HD capacity is in place.

But predicting where the wireless demand will be high in the rest of London with any real accuracy is a lot more difficult. Hartley believes the main transport hubs, such as the Paddington, King’s Cross, and Victoria train stations, should be able to cope. Additional infrastructure will be deployed so commuters waiting for trains due to the increased volume of people utilising the transport system can still use their mobile devices for both data and voice services.

However, other areas of intense wireless activity will be much harder to foresee. The spill-over from people who can’t get to trains at the transport hubs could lead to greater activity in surrounding areas, and the cells there might struggle to cope with the extra traffic.

Hartley also warns that the dedicated Olympic lanes on the roads could result in more traffic jams. Stuck drivers may use the wireless network while they wait, causing congestion hotspots. But where will these jams occur?

Ofcom has responded by assigning 20,000 wireless frequencies for use during the Games to ease the strain placed on the capital’s RF overhead. This is more than twice the figure normally assigned for an entire year. Many field engineers have been contracted to identify and resolve the interference issues arising from the increase.

Testing The System

A new approach is being pioneered for network performance testing. Normally, equipment housed in vans performs the testing. More streamlined test hardware attached to motorbikes, though, offers a more efficient solution. These two-wheeled testers are more agile (since motorbikes are better than vans at negotiating gridlock) and environmentally friendly too.

Wireless testing projects like these need rapid access to state-of-the-art equipment over a short time frame. Rentals, then, will offer advantages over purchased equipment. The necessary network analysis can be executed efficiently and cost-effectively, and it could play a vital role in ensuring the wireless communication networks serving London are robust enough to handle the massive surge in traffic. This equipment may include:

  • Narda’s SRM-3000 selective radiation meter allows accurate assessment of what proportion of the overall field strength is coming from specific wireless sources (WLAN, WiMAX, UMTS, DVB-T, TETRA, radio/TV broadcast signals, etc.). It offers broadband measurement from 9 kHz to 6 GHz.
  • The rugged and lightweight (3 kg including battery) Rohde & Schwarz FSH4 handheld spectrum analyser from Rohde & Schwarz has a frequency range of 9 kHz to 3.6 GHz and sensitivity down to –141 dBm.
  • Anritsu’s MS2711D handheld spectrum analyser covers 100 kHz to 3 GHz. It accepts inputs from +20 dBm to –135 dBm and has a resolution bandwidth of 100 Hz to 1 MHz.
  • The Ascom TEMS Investigation data acquisition software platform enables troubleshooting, verification, and optimisation of modern wireless networks. It can simultaneously scan up to 1500 channels on any given band and supports LTE bandwidths from 1.4 MHz to 20 MHz.

With some 14,000 of the world’s top athletes supported by several million sport fans, plus a multitude of representatives of the media all coming to the 2012 Olympics, organisers need to be confident that London’s wireless networks can cope.

The sophisticated tools that can be rented from test sourcing companies mean there is no need for contracted engineering teams to worry about heavy price tags or long delivery times, as costs are only accrued over the length of the assignment and equipment is readily available off the shelf.
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