It’s been an interesting start to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia – between the #sochiproblems twitter feed reporting everything bad that’s happening, to the too fast downhill which is claiming its share of Olympic athletes and the snowboarders half-pipe that's melting.

Despite these issues, one thing is clear – technology is making its way into every part of the Olympics. From communications, collaboration and data networking, to security, to information services, to event timing and to analyzing the performance of each athlete – a lot has changed since the last Winter Olympics in 2010.

A Wireless World

One area that has changed significantly since 2010 is the global wireless market.  Back in 2010, tablets were non-existent. In fact, the Apple iPad has just been announced, but would not be available until late March 2010.  Today, the number of tablets sold to date is in the hundreds of millions.

The same can be said for all other types of wireless devices. On a global basis, smartphones were still emerging. According to the Ericsson Mobility Report issued in November, the number of smartphones across the globe has grown by nearly 5x since 2010 and is expected to continue to grow at a rapid pace through the end of this decade.

As such demand for wireless connectivity in Sochi is expected to be high. According to Avaya who has been providing network equipment for the past few Olympics – the ratio of wireless-to-wired users is expected to be 4:1, when just four years ago, this ratio was reversed. Additionally, 2500 wireless access points have been installed across the venues to support demand for Wi-Fi as this is expected to be the main form of access for most users.

The 4G Olympics

Another significant change is the type of wireless network – as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games will be the first Olympics with a live 4G LTE network. MegaFon and Rostelecom are providing the mobile infrastructure and have spent more than $500 million to build out the network in Sochi, according to reports.

According to MegaFon, they have installed 950 base stations and antennas (680 2G/3G base stations and 270 4G base stations) over a 2 square kilometer area. Additionally, Rostelecom has installed 40 4G LTE base stations across the mountain cluster and coastal clusters. This 4G network will offer peak data rates up to 60Mbps downstream and 20Mbps upstream, while the average speeds are expected around 35Mbps.

So how is the network performing so far?

MegaFon offered the following statistics regarding the Opening Ceremonies:

  • The average speed in the 3G network at the stadium was 3–5 Mbps while the 4G was more than 20 Mbps
  • Approximately 75% of the mobile gadgets used at the event were smartphones
  • 130 thousand calls were made and 50 thousand SMS messages were sent
  • MegaFon clients uploaded and downloaded more than 400GB of data in the 2G/3G/4G network
  • Non-MegaFon subscribers, using the inter-network roaming service, made 20% of the calls.
Anytime, Everywhere, Any Device

During the course of the games – there will be approximately 40,000 predicted users (press, athletes, volunteers, officials, etc.) along with another 75,000 visitors per day. In many cases, they will be using more than one device and many of these will be roaming on the network. This is BYOD at its finest and the network has been designed to support up to 120,000 devices at any time.

Because of this BYOD environment, the network has to be capable of identifying and granting access to a range of user groups while simultaneously ensuring stable, secure bandwidth. Network access rights and permissions are assigned based on a user's credentials and role (media, athlete, IOC official), where they connect from (Olympic village, competition venues, etc.) and how they connect. Users are then placed securely into the network with a pre-determined level of service.

Virtualization

This is the first Olympics to implement network virtualization, which have provided many benefits – including a simplified network architecture that has resulted in the need for a small IT staff and reduced operating costs. The ability to transparently extend Layer 2 and/or Layer 3 domains across a virtual backbone means adding new services or adjusting network capacity can be quickly done during times of peak demand. Finally, this virtualized network allows for the creation of network zones – for voice, enterprise, admin, IPTV and the Games network – which provides instantaneous event results for all competitions.

IPTV

During the 2010 Winter Olympics, video was handled via an overlay network. For the 2014 Olympics – a converged video network using IPTV will be in operation to distribute 36 HD video channels to each Olympic venue offering unprecedented coverage of these Olympics.

Beyond Telecommunications

Beyond the telecommunications and data networking infrastructure – technology is having an impact in other ways. During the 2014 Winter Olympics, spectators will be able to see the  speed, acceleration, G-force and vertical track positioning data during the bobsled events, while cross-country skiers will be tracked by GPS technology and speed skaters' times will be measured to the nearest thousandth of a second using light beams on the surface of the ice at the finish line.

Another intriguing area are the new apps that are helping to train athletes. Ubersense – allows a coach to record in HD via a smartphone or a tablet, the activity of an athlete – whether skiing, skating, bobsledding, etc. and break it down into super slow motion, allowing the ability to compare technique side-by-side and frame-by-frame.

Big Data plays a role in AmpSport Athlete Management Platform, which is a cloud-based application that combines information across a variety of inputs such as an athlete’s training program, performance, daily wellness, profile data and historical performance data to provide actionable advice to improve an athlete’s performance.

But perhaps the most innovative technology that had made its way into the 2014 Winter Olympics is the passport-controlled beer fridge installed in Canadian Club House.

The fridge, provided by Molson, comes with an electronic reader that will only accept Canadian passports. Once the document is inserted the door opens providing free beers for all.

This deserves a Gold medal all by itself.