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Cabinet Office warns that internet may have dropouts during Olympics
Monday 06 February 2012 19:06:10 by Andrew Ferguson

With the vast changes in how social media allows people to stay in touch all the time, the 2012 Olympics do look set to demonstrate large levels of internet traffic, but the diversity of connection methods, communications providers and large number of fibre backbones connecting major cities across the UK and to the rest of the world mean that the talk internet meltdown by the Cabinet Office look very like scaremongering.

An article in the last weekends Observer runs with the headline that the internet could crash due to the London Olympics, and web access be rationed. A lot of the Cabinet Office concern may stem from a Department for Transport (DfT) pilot, Operation Footfall run in August 2011, that saw staff experience internet connection problems as part of a homeworking experiment. The pilot forms part of Operation StepChange that is meant to show how staff can work from home, embracing video conferencing.

While there is no doubt that event locations will see heavy access to resources like mobile networks for both text, voice and data, the networks should be well versed in handling large events through lessons learnt at places like Glastonbury, Wimbledon and other major events in the last few years across the UK. The deployment of more Wi-Fi hotspots by providers particularly in London may off-load some traffic, and will also allow overseas visitors to access the internet without recourse to expensive roaming agreements.

The limited capacity of most Wi-Fi hotspots and mobile masts means that even if everyone in a stadium tweets at the same time, the effect may simply be that some tweets are a little slow getting through. The ability for a large crowd in one part of the UK to crash the UK internet as an entity is ludicrous.

It is entirely feasible that some home broadband providers may suffer more peak time congestion than is usual, but talk of rationing web access makes it sound like providers may disconnect parts of the UK for hours at a time. Congestion due to spikes are not uncommon and the good providers will be well used to handling them, if anything the calendar for the Olympics allows for better planning. Video streams and for example people wanting to watch the 100m final after missing it are likely to be the biggest source of traffic, but many services have distributed Content Delivery Platforms that ensure that expensive backbone capacity is not wasted, i.e. a stream can be delivered once to a cache, and played back to multiple people from a location in a providers network.

There is some merit to small business and medium businesses located near an Olympic venue who plan to have staff working from home actually testing that this backup plan does actually work. For example can the systems that currently only have or two home workers using them actually handle twenty people it at the same time. Larger businesses which have dedicated bandwidth leased line connectivity, and extensive diverse location hosting solutions should be able to cope as they have ensured that their business has no single point in its communications network.

The summary is that normal contingency procedures should allow businesses to continue to function, and the Olympics for broadband providers will really just be a series of daily traffic spikes, which may not follow the standard pattern. The wall to wall coverage on digital TV should ensure most people will be able to view most of the major events live or on +1 channels with no difficulty. Alternatively if you want to escape the Olympics we are sure there will be plenty of cheap holiday deals across Europe.

Comments

Posted by fibrebunny over 2 years ago
Do they think the entire internets comes with a single on/off switch too? xD

BBC live news online will undoubtedly suffer. As it tends to crawl along with big news items. Catchup services might suffer a bit too but I should imagine people are expecting slowdowns.
Posted by GMAN99 over 2 years ago
Its the rubbish copper that is to blame!! ;o)
Posted by creakycopperline over 2 years ago
ahh gmann, speaking sense for a change.
Posted by timmay over 2 years ago
Virgin Media proved their internet has a single on/off switch recently.

Things may be slower yes but are unlikely to stop working unless there is a major outage and anyway that'd never affect all ISP's.
Posted by undecidedadrian over 2 years ago
Frankly the givernment is trying to put doom and gloom on the whole Olympics so when it goes off ok they can gloat and when something does go wrong they can say "we told you so"

Frankly the whole thing is going to be one huge anti-climax.
Posted by dustofnations over 2 years ago
You'd think it would be a particularly good opportunity for using multicasting with video streams.

I'm not sure what the current status of multicasting is within the BT network (i.e. how late/optimally does it replicate), and I'd also be interested to know whether BBC use multicasting with their live flash-encapsulated streams.
Posted by c_j_ over 2 years ago
"The ability for a large crowd in one part of the UK to crash the UK internet as an entity is ludicrous"
"unlikely to stop working unless there is a major outage and anyway that'd never affect all ISP's."

Maybe.

Where were you on 9/11?

To all intents and purposes the Internet did stop, at work and at home, regardless of ISP.

Some lessons may have been learned, the Olympics hopefully won't be 9/11, but the idea that there is sufficient distributed spare capacity in place to cope with any plausible (not 'likely', just plausible) scenario is laughable.
Posted by otester over 2 years ago
It will just simply highlight the bad ISP's, those that chose their provider wisely will be unaffected.
Posted by Northwind over 2 years ago
I didn't think that the common Internet-using folk were allowed to watch the Olympic Games anyway. :-/
Posted by mhc over 2 years ago

I am surprised that LOCOG have not managed to enforce an access charge! Anyone using any form of datacomms, WiFi or mobile phone networks from within a venue (or within 1/2 mile) would be subject to a 10p/kB charge.

They seem to be grabbing every other opportunity that they can.
Posted by mhc over 2 years ago
@c_j_

Did it stop? Not for me ... just the links we used that ran through NY. I was in Brisbane at the time and we lost very little connectivity and once traffic through NY was rerouted we were back to near 100% within an hour or two.
Posted by Dilbert over 2 years ago
I don't think they are scaremongering, whenever there is a major event my internet connection (Aquiss FTTC) goes completely useless.

Last time was a few weeks ago when Andy Murray was playing in the Australian open and people were watching it live on the web.

My normal 40Mbps connection was giving me less than 1Mbps on the different speed checkers including the BT one.

Phoned my ISP and their only response was that the network was getting hammered due to Andy Murray's match, doesn't bode well for the Olympics tbh.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
@dilbert which is difference between providers who run a network with peak usage in mind, and those that don't.

If something like the Australian Open was causing widespread issues, then we can be sure those providers not affected would be making PR about it.
Posted by TGVrecord over 2 years ago
Further proof that 2012 is a vanity project that will cause more trouble than it is worth. I dare say that the internet will be used more during the games as more people will be working from home as getting to London will be impossible. Who would want to queue for an hour just to access London Bridge station?
Posted by c_j_ over 2 years ago
@mhc re 9/11 "Did it stop? Not for me ... just the links we used that ran through NY. I was in Brisbane at the time and we lost very little connectivity and once traffic through NY was rerouted we were back to near 100% within an hour or two. "

What timezones is Australia ? Late evening/overnight in Oz when it started, surely? A few hours later, when Oz wakes up, the facts are clearer, critical websites are in low-graphics mode, and the internet works again. Did Oz even have mass market broadband back then? It wasn't exactly mass market in the UK.
Posted by chrysalis over 2 years ago
Tweeting wont cause issues, I suspect live streaming will tho. We will get the usual story from isp's stating unforseen demand happened.
Posted by macbits2000 over 2 years ago
Since whenever has the UK government been able to handle anything big successfully??
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