Networking

2012 Olympics: What will be the broadband legacy?

Miles of fibre have been laid for the London 2012 Games - but questions remain as to how the UK will benefit from the Olympic network investment.

The London 2012 Olympic Games have, according to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, been "built not just for the coming weeks - but the coming decades".

Yet when it comes to technology, what lasting benefit will UK residents and businesses see from the miles of fibre that provide the information backbone for the Games?

The Olympics core network is expected to stream up to 60Gbps - the equivalent of 60,000 novels - between the 34 Olympic venues and the rest of the world.

At present, only two of these venues are guaranteed to have that connectivity available to tenants and surrounding premises once the Games finish. It looks likely other venues will have their Olympic networks decommissioned, at least in the short term.

"Lots of the permanent venue tenants haven't been earmarked yet - the stadium, for example. So it's very difficult to know what their requirements will be after the Games," a BT spokesman said.

Where a tenant hasn't been identified to take over an Olympic venue, or the tenant doesn't need the additional bandwidth, BT will remove associated networking equipment.

"Essentially that means taking out the access points, routers and switches at the very edge of the network but leaving the fibre in the ground so it can either be reactivated when a tenant does come along or reused for other customers in surrounding areas," the BT spokesman said.

"At a basic level, it will constitute extra capacity in the backbone of the UK network for that area, and it can be used by any communications provider to provide services to any of their customers, be they business or residential."

It will be impossible to leave any additional networking capacity at the seven temporary Olympic venues, such as Horse Guards Parade in London, which must be returned to their former state. Additionally there are 12 venues such as Wembley football stadium and Wimbledon, where high-speed broadband infrastructure already existed.

The two sites where there will be clear broadband benefits are the Olympic Village in east London, where the Games network infrastructure will provide 300Mbps broadband to 2,818 new homes, and in Portland in Dorset, where BT is leaving the fibre network in place for the use of more than 5,700 homes and businesses around the Olympic sailing venue.

However the Games have delayed the rollout of BT Infinity, BT's fibre broadband service, by at least six months to the residents in Portland's neighbouring town, Weymouth. Work on installing infrastructure was put back due to a ban on roadworks in the town in the run-up to the Games.

BT said it had also brought forward investment in its national broadband network to coincide with the Games.

Rob Gallagher, principal analyst with Informa Telecoms and Media, said investment in general fixed and wireless telecoms infrastructure to cope with demand during the Games would provide a more stable service.

"Operators are focusing their efforts mainly behind the scenes, investing in extra backhaul capacity, traffic management and content delivery technologies," he said.

"In this sense, London 2012's main legacy for broadband in the UK might be one that many consumers simply don't notice - broadband networks become more reliable."

However, Oliver Johnson, CEO of broadband analyst firm Point Topic, said the Games will have minimal impact on the national rollout of broadband.

"It's a small drop in the ocean when it comes to driving forward broadband in the UK," he said.

While some areas close to Olympic venues may gain faster speeds, Johnson said government efforts should be focused on ensuring that everyone has access to broadband speeds of at least 2Mbps.

"The UK's focus up to now has been skewed towards more and more bandwidth, in line with EU policy, but nobody has figured out how to connect up the last 10 to 15 per cent of the UK who don't have anything you can call broadband available to them.

"That's not just Scottish Highlands. That's also parts of the Isle of Dogs [in east London] that until very recently could barely get a megabit. So they're inner-city issues as well in terms of getting enough coverage.

"That's a major item and this Olympics legacy will not address any of that substantively."

The government is subsidising private sector broadband rollout to the tune of £530m ($830m). Its aim is for broadband of 24Mbps to be available to 90 percent of premises in the UK by 2015, with the rest getting at least 2Mbps.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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