Catching some air: What UK businesses can learn from the Olympics

The Boardroom

by Allan Swann| 08 August 2012

CBR asks what UK Plc can learn from the London 2012 Olympics in three hot areas: mobile and wireless, security and social media.

London 2012 Olympics

Mobile and wireless
While the Olympics only happen every few years, technology has a much faster upgrade cycle. Welcome then to 'the Wi-Fi Olympics'. Allan Swann reports.

The pace of change in the mobile industry has been staggering over the past four years, perhaps beyond anything the IT industry has ever seen.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the dominant smartphone makers were RIM and Nokia. They are now on the verge of extinction. The original iPhone was barely a year old. The iPad was still two years away. Smartphone apps and mobile video streaming were in their infancy.

In the intervening four years, Apple has effectively created the mobile data market, and ever since, Wi-Fi and mobile networks worldwide have struggled to keep up. How will London's Wi-Fi and mobile infrastructure cope with the Olympics?

Research shows that around 50% of all UK mobile phone users are on smartphones, and Deloitte estimates that 15% of Britons are already tablet users. Those visiting London will be using Google Maps, data-hungry apps and social media, and will be streaming video and radio broadcasts. Advertisers and promoters will be using the same tools to entice them.

This is the first Olympics that will feature a generation of athletes that have grown up with proper mobile internet and Wi-Fi. These teens and 20-somethings will be expecting to Facebook and Tweet freely.

"If you look at the network bandwidth being consumed in London versus the network bandwidth consumed in Beijing, it's about seven times larger," says Howard Dickel, client partner, BT London 2012 Delivery Programme at BT Global Services.

Dickel is overseeing the company's London 2012 Delivery Programme, which is providing all of the fixed and mobile voice and data services for the Games. BT is projecting 300,000 visitors to be moving around the main Olympic stadia out at Stratford at any given time, and has built 1,000 dedicated Wi-Fi access points to cope.

"In partnership with Cisco, we've put in the world's largest high-density Wi-Fi network. Alongside our goal of enhancing the overall user experience, we are actively trying to entice people onto our Wi-Fi network to take pressure off the mobile 3G networks," he said.

Right up until the week of the Opening Ceremony, BT was still performing full load (and beyond) stress tests on the network. The company has also used its experience from the Royal Wedding, the Queen's Jubilee, Euro 2012 and its Super Bowl contract in the US to test its systems.

Overall, it has delivered 42 competition test events over the past year - across 28 different venues and over 190 days.
Dickel admits that estimating the Wi-Fi data load is a near impossible task - no event of this scale with Wi-Fi access has ever been held. For the same reason it is hard to predict what consumers will use it for - will they simply email and tweet, or stream live video?

Blue Coat Systems estimates that during the 2008 Beijing Olympics viewers watched 50 million online video streams (558.8TB of data). London 2012 is expected to reach 134.4 million views (3.7PB). Video quality has also gone up in that time, from around 200Kbps on average, to 500Kbps.

Approximately 30-60% of all workplace network bandwidth in the nation is expected to be consumed by Olympics video.

"The Beijing 2008 YouTube channel had 21 million views during two weeks of the Olympics games. Given video usage trends, we can expect as many as 704 million views for the 2012 Olympics," said Dave Ewart, director product marketing, Blue Coat Systems.

If these kinds of numbers are repeated on mobile, there will be problems. Despite all BT's work, it is warning that users may deal with Wi-Fi congestion or even drop-outs. "I think people do understand that, at certain times, much like there are queues for a whole range of services at a large event, there are also potentially queues for access to the mobile networks, 3G and Wi-Fi," Dickel said. "We think people are maturing very quickly in this marketplace and accept that sometimes you lose a connection, then you reconnect - you do what you need to do."

Despite this, Dickel believes that the network BT has constructed has four to five times the capacity needed, with around 900 access points in the Olympic Park at Stratford, 260 of which are in the main Olympic Stadium. "What we are doing in our work with Cisco is creating the highest-density Wi-Fi network in the Olympic Stadium we can within the laws of physics... This is ground-breaking stuff."

Dickel estimates that around 60-70% of visitors will use its Olympic Park Wi-Fi network at some point. The speeds seen so far are estimated to be, "Around four to five times an equivalent standard Wi-Fi access point" - that's around 5-7Mbps.

It won't be a free service either. While BT would not go into the tender process, details with LOCOG, and the subsequent cost to the taxpayer, customers will need to purchase Wi-Fi vouchers to access the service, which will be sold in hourly or daily portions.

The strain stretches far beyond Stratford, with events being held in Hyde Park, Earl's Court and in Greenwich. Tourists will also be expecting city-wide coverage - an offering in which London has been traditionally weak.

Mayor Boris Johnson cancelled his plans for a free, London-wide municipal Wi-Fi network, declaring it financially unviable. This gap has since been filled on a small scale by O2's new contract with Westminster and Kensington Councils, which will cover tourist spots such as Oxford Street and Leicester square.

"With millions of extra people coming to town for the Games, we want to ensure we showcase the capital as the best city in the world to work and visit, and the addition of free Wi-Fi to some of our most popular landmarks is crucial in helping to maintaining that reputation," said Johnson.

Mike Butcher of TechHub told a London Assembly meeting on Broadband and Wi-Fi last month that the lack of Wi-Fi in the city was becoming a liability. He believes advertising models, supported by the private sector, would solve the problem. "Technologically speaking [Wi-Fi] is not hard to do. It's a no brainer," he said. "Advertisers will be falling over themselves to use ads."

Xirrus CEO Shane Buckley agrees. "The revenue model in the UK is also broken - people attempting to use our hot spots are paying £5-6 per access - it's just not going to happen. No husband is going to spend £5 to check the sports scores while he waits for his wife to do her shopping. It's just not economic. So the ability to monetise the wireless infrastructure here is still not working," he said.

"In the US you get special offers, coupons and ads pushed at you. Providers have monetised free Wi-Fi that way. The US commercial structure is something the UK can definitely learn from."

Virgin's London Underground Wi-Fi appears to be working, the company boasting four million sessions in its first week of existence. While providing a free service for the duration of the games, it intends to charge afterward, and supply wholesale access to other providers. It has also been looking at tie ups with the mobile carriers.

Despite limited Wi-Fi access across the city, BT's London general manager Andrew Campling says the city has, "probably got the greatest concentration of Wi-Fi of any city globally - which is a pretty good place to be."

BT remains the key supplier to the rest of the city, boasting 475,000 hot spots in London, which it charges for.

Campling believes that free, city-wide Wi-Fi is mostly a dream and that overseas examples of it working successfully are more the exception than the rule. "Many of those services that show huge growth and have much publicity often quietly fold one to two years later when the public subsidies run out," he said.

"So if you want something that is sustainable as opposed to a big headline, it is difficult to see how that could be done completely free to every end-user, with unlimited capacity for everyone. Somebody, somewhere has to pay for the costs."

Smaller Wi-Fi providers, such as the BSkyB-owned 'The Cloud' service, focus on 'indoor' Wi-Fi, setting up in pubs, cafes and with small-scale outdoor promotions. It has just completed the rollout providing the Wi-Fi to the Stratford Westfield shopping mall - the gateway to Olympic Park. It also won Transport for London's tender for the Overground, and is rolling out Wi-Fi to 54 stations across the city.

The company has been working to tie into advertising opportunities, promotions and competitions across its Westfield Stratford site, and its Wi-Fi will offer a free portal that will constantly update with results from the Games.

MD Vince Russell says the company has 1,000 London hot spots active during the Olympics, and the company has already had to upgrade its data capacity five times in this year alone to cope with demand, reporting a doubling of overall usage in the past two months.

"We've been lucky in 2012 in that we've had quite a few good warm up events. The Euro 2012 England versus Ukraine match alone saw a 2.5 times increase in traffic across the network," he said.

"I think the mobile operators have been a bit 'ostrich like' when it comes to admitting that their 3G networks are overloading. None of the operators have gone into Wi-Fi in a big way, which is actually needed to ensure their networks don't go down. Let's hope they don't."

Security
The physical security of the London 2012 Games has been well documented, but organisers are just as worried about the prospect of a cyber attack. Steve Evans looks at what is being done to safeguard the IT infrastructure and how businesses may be affected by Olympic cyber security threats.

In one of the many high-rise buildings that occupy London's Canary Wharf sits Atos Origin's Technology Lab, a hub from where the London 2012 tech infrastructure is being controlled.

The 2,000m² Technology Lab contains 880 PCs, 130 servers, 110 network switches and will initially be staffed by around 70 people. As the Games kicked off, Atos Origin, as Worldwide IT Partner for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, was in control of 900 servers, 1,000 network and security devices and just under 20,000 technology devices including 9,500 computers. In the run up to the Games, the Lab underwent 200,000 hours of testing to ensure people knew how to react if and when something went wrong, ranging from power supply issues to staff being unavailable.

Another area of focus was cyber security. Governments are often accused of downplaying the severity of potential threats but not this time. Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, in charge of the UK's cyber defences, spoke candidly about the threats facing the Games, pointing out that, during the 2008 Games in Beijing, their site was subject to 12 million cyber "incidents" a day.

"The London Olympics will not be immune to a cyber attack launched by those wishing to disrupt the Games," he said at a conference in Estonia. "We have rightly been preparing for some time a dedicated unit that will help guard the London Olympics against cyber attack. We are determined to have a safe and secure Games."

The man in charge of all this of course is Gerry Pennell, CIO of the London 2012 Olympics. At the official opening of the Technology Lab he also did not mince his words about the cyber threat facing the Games.

Gerry Pennell, London 2012 CIO
Gerry Pennell, London 2012 CIO

"We will be the target of a cyber attack. It'll happen for sure," he said. "We're working with our partners and government bodies to make sure our defences are adequate. Games have been attacked before so we're spending a significant amount of time on security. Attacks could include a DDoS [distributed denial of service] that affects the website or an attack that aims to bring down the entire infrastructure."

Michele Hyron, Chief Integrator for London 2012 at Atos said a great proportion of those 200,000 hours of testing went to examining cyber threats. Atos worked with LOCOG and other Olympics partners to play out a series of worst-case scenarios, including a massive DDoS attack that brings down the website, a virus getting into the network and a coordinated strike that aims to bring down the entire tech infrastructure.

Atos enlisted the help of ethical hackers to test the systems in place. "We are using ethical hackers for that, we are using external companies, we are using people from our own company who are specialised in that kind of activity," she is quoted by AP as saying. "We are preparing ourselves in terms of testing to cover all kind of threats to the Olympic Games."

Patrick Adiba of Atos told the BBC that testing was rigorous. "We simulate past competitions and have a shadow team of about 100 people coming and creating problems - injecting viruses, disconnecting PC servers. We simulate the effect and see how people react."

The emergence over the last few years of 'hacktivism' groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec, who often attack targets simply for the fun of doing so, is something else the testing team had to be aware of, and something that was much less of a threat at the Beijing Games. However, Atos has said there was no evidence of specific threats targeting the Games, but Adiba added that Atos is in constant communication with relevant authorities.

"We have our own system within Atos to see the evolution of cyber crimes, and we have contact with relevant authorities to share knowledge and information about what may happen," he said.

But beyond the exhaustive testing, LOCOG is taking no chances with the infrastructure itself. Pennell says it has been designed in such as way that a 'successful' cyber attack will be very difficult to launch.

"We will be using a content distribution network to push data out, which means our dependency on a central host architecture is much lower. What that means is that it is very hard to launch a successful distributed denial of service attack (DDoS), simply because our front-end is so dispersed," he says.

"We designed our approach to information security into our architecture from the beginning," Pennell continues. "We keep mission-critical Games systems, such as anything to do with distributing results, quite insulated from other components of the network, particularly anything web-facing, thus making it extremely hard for an external attack to succeed."

Speaking to CBR, Trend Micro's director of security research Rik Ferguson says this approach is a sensible one to take.

"It is certainly possible to distribute public-facing content distribution architecture to mitigate the possibility of DDoS and it is best practice to isolate critical internal infrastructure, the air gap principle, so that a successful penetration of external-facing infrastructure doesn't offer a path to more critical internal systems," he says. "Let's hope they got it right, certainly the battery of tests they have prepared should give them a good idea."

LOCOG did not respond to CBR's request to contribute to this article, and even if they had it is unlikely they would have given much away about the security infrastructure in place, beyond what Pennell has already said. But with no major cyber security issues reported so far, it seems the testing and infrastructure put in place has done its job.

But it is not just LOCOG that has to worry about cyber security at the Games; many businesses throughout the world are also at risk from cyber attacks connected to the event. Security firms such as Sophos, Kaspersky Lab, Websense and McAfee have all warned people to be on their guard after a variety of Olympic-related cyber threats were detected.

These Olympic-related threats range from phishing emails that aim to trick users into revealing personal information to fraudulent websites that either demand credit card details for Olympic tickets that don't exist or plant malware on an unsuspecting user's PC.

Sophos said recently it had picked up on a number of phishing emails that claim the recipient has won nearly £1m in an Olympic lottery. "It claimed to come from '2012 Olympic games promo' and had a subject of 2012 Olympic games,Please [sic] view the attached for details'," wrote Graham Cluley of Sophos.

He said a number of things in this email should set the alarm bells ringing - such as asking the recipient to email a Hotmail address and the demand for personal information - but these scams do work, so it is likely some people will fall victim.

Data theft is one thing but what if someone received an email or a socially-engineered attack claiming to be about Olympic tickets that actually contains malware masquerading as a PDF? If that malware gets onto a corporate network there is no telling what damage it could do.

It is not at all unusual for cyber criminals to piggyback on popular events and big news stories to spread their malware and, as ever, the advice to businesses and users is: be on your guard, make sure your antivirus and other security products are kept up to date and do not open attachments from people you do not know.

If you have not entered an Olympic-themed lottery game, you are not likely to receive an email about it. Similarly, if you haven't bought tickets to any Olympic events, why would you receive an email claiming to have urgent information about them?

So while the Olympic team is doing all it can to keep the Games secure, businesses across the country must also ensure they stay safe.

Social media
The 2012 London Olympics have become the first Olympics Games to be considered 'social'. Social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is expected to play a dominant role in how sports information is received and interpreted across the globe from London. Tineka Smith looks at how social media has evolved since the last Games, and how businesses can take advantage of the presence of social media during the London 2012 Olympics.

"25% of all online activity is social media," Dara Nasr, UK head of display for YouTube tells CBR. The fact that social media currently accounts for a quarter of all online activity shows just how dominant social media has become over the past few years.

Since the 2008 Beijing Games, digital media has evolved rapidly, which will make coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games very different to any of the Olympic Games in the past.

Social media's importance as a tool for businesses and brands has evolved quickly as well. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has even set guidelines to avoid ambush marketing on social media sites in the interest of Olympic sponsors. This is the first time specific guidelines have been outlined for businesses and brands on social media channels for an Olympic Games, which shows just how much it has grown.

When comparing the vastly different digital media landscapes of 2008 and 2012, the key driver for change is due to the evolution of social media. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were being used by brands to engage with customers. However, these social media have grown from being just popular social channels to global powerhouses.

"I think we need to look at the social media platforms and how many people are on Facebook and Twitter," says Alex Huot, head of social media for the International Olympic Committee. "Comparing 2008 and where we are today - that's a big change. I think if we look at that change, it's like going from black and white television to colour."

IOC social media head Alex Huot

Huot points out that the use of social media platforms in the past few years has exploded and continues to increase exponentially. "If you were to compare it with Vancouver, which is where we began to engage in social media, I launched the Facebook page two weeks before the Games and had five fans. Now, in two weeks we had one million. That's where we began to say 'wow, there's really something here'. It has changed in a way where it was kind of simple and now it's become something quite complex."

Katy Bennett, territory manager for Webtrends, says that the social media landscape has changed even since winning the bid for the 2012 Olympics back in 2005. "This will be the first Olympics in Britain since 1948 and a lot has changed since then," says Bennett, "but when we won the bid in 2005, social media was still in its infancy. No-one had any idea that the proliferation of social networks would explode and that some of the biggest social sites - Facebook, Twitter and YouTube - would play an unprecedented role at this year's Games."

The Beijing Olympics were held just four years ago, which can be an eternity in internet and social media time. "In 2008, there were 100 million Facebook users and six million Twitter users," added Bennett. "Fast forward four years and there are now 900 million Facebook users and 500 million Twitter users worldwide. I think it's fair to say that the 2012 Olympics in London will be the world's first 'social Games'."

Experts say the internet will be the main medium for watching or finding out information surrounding the Olympics. The web is expected to outdo print, television and radio channels.

"The web, over and above TV and display advertising, is now the primary route through which the Olympics will reach people, whether they want to watch footage, read reports or interact with athletes, fans and brands," says Stephen Creek, head of content and social media at SEO and digital agency Branded3.

"Social media is becoming more omnipotent in terms of communications, whereas two years ago and certainly at the time of Beijing it would be a channel, and there may be a team or agency doing social, but now it's a more mainstream, multichannel approach," says Luke Brynley- Jones, CEO of Our Social Times.

Despite strict branding legislation surrounding the Games this year, the amount of engagement happening around the Olympics provides a great opportunity for businesses and brands. Although some experts warn that brands will need to be careful using imagery and key words during the Games.

Among the banned actions is the use of certain hashtags in social media content. But some brands are executing creative campaigns that work within the guidelines while increasing user engagement on social media channels. The Metro is encouraging its readers to use the hashtag #homeadvantage, while Nike, which is a non-Olympic sponsor, has their popular #makeitcount campaign that features numerous Olympic athletes.

IOC says the best way to increase brand engagement during the 2012 Olympics is to focus on fun and engaging social strategies. "Social media is about connecting," says Huot. "The Olympics is a celebration and it's about fun. The opening ceremony is a great, amazing party where people have a good time, and I think that what a business is pulling together needs to be fun and engaging. The project managers driving social strategies need to really want to engage and have fun with it."

Social media experts say that constant engagement, and being trustworthy and transparent during the Olympics are key attributes to have in your core strategy for attracting customers on social media sites.

Many popular social campaigns are engaging constantly in the lead up to events, which increases the chance for a greater engagement rate. Tapping into live events, posting questions and interesting photos will help create real-time excitement around the games while engaging with customers on various social media platforms.

Social sites like YouTube are now streaming the Olympics live in HD to over 60 countries in Asia and Africa. Experts predict that large numbers of people across the globe will watch coverage of the Olympics primarily through this social channel.

"The Olympics is the number one global conversation this summer, and this year that conversation will take place through social media more than anywhere else," says Creek.

Media giants in the US like NBC have partnered with Facebook for Olympic coverage that will be viewed online. IOC has set up its own social space called the Olympic Athlete's Hub that will allow visitors to follow and interact with their favourite Olympic competitors through Twitter and Facebook.

The experience of following events in real time is something that has not been available for past Olympic Games. Many experts believe engagement through social media will reach its highest peak to date during the London Olympics.

"Social media will reach fever pitch during the London 2012 Olympic Games, making this the most social global sporting event to date," says Georg Ell, EMEA general manager for Yammer.

Ell says that social media will actually help increase interest in the 2012 Olympic Games that previous Games have not experienced. "The immediacy of social media will allow people across the world to feel more connected and in touch with the Games," he says. "This more accessible method of communication will drive interest in the Olympic Games globally, really putting London and the UK in the global spotlight in a way previous Games will not have experienced. This worldwide focus can only be good for UK business."

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