Olympic technology winners and losers

Men's road race Did tweeting spectators disrupt race data?

On Friday, I wrote about the challenge facing the mobile phone networks as the Olympics got underway, and a huge volume of texts tweets and other traffic threatened to clog them up.

And - rather like the transport system where the anticipated chaos has (so far) failed to materialise - it looks as though the networks came through Friday night very well. Since then, however, some technology problems have surfaced.

On the Olympic Park, the investment in extra capacity in the form of 30 masts and one of the world's best wi-fi networks, has paid off. The 80,000 spectators and volunteers pumped out photos, tweets, texts and calls without problems. Vodafone says its network saw data usage from the stadium equivalent to the sending of 400,000 smartphone pictures.

Daniel Sturridge of Great Britain celebrates scoring a goal during the Men's Football Payment systems crashed at Wembley

Across the country, predictions that it would be a busy but not exceptional night for mobile networks proved accurate. Vodafone says that while data volume was up by 5% on the previous week, the volume of calls and texts was about the same. With 27 million watching the opening ceremony on television, it seems that many were using their home broadband rather than their mobiles to connect.

But it was a different story on Saturday, when a million people took to the streets of south-west London and Surrey to follow the men's cycling road race. It seems they were making constant use of their phones to update Facebook and Twitter and to send photos - and that is being blamed for the fact that vital race data, apparently travelling over the same mobile networks, was slow to reach the commentators.

Start Quote

If you haven't heard of him, we haven't either”

End Quote NBC Olympic anchor Meredith Vieira on Tim Berners-Lee

Privately, the networks say they were never asked by the games organisers to provide an "Olympic lane" for race data traffic, so they cannot be blamed for any problems.

Last night saw a technical problem of a more embarrassing nature for one of the Olympic sponsors. Visa is using the Games to try out some new technology, principally a mobile payments system on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, and at one stage there were ambitions to make this the first cashless Olympics.

But at Wembley, where the Great Britain football team was playing the UAE, the whole Visa system appeared to collapse - and spectators found that good old fashioned cash was the only way to pay for their purchases.

Visa says it was Wembley's systems, not theirs, that failed: "The cash-only decision was made by Wembley management and not Visa."

Olympics coverage online

Olympics images

Still, it is another sign that the road to a cashless economy is going to be strewn with potholes.

But the prize for the single most embarrassing Olympics technical failure so far must go to the American television network NBC. For anyone of an even slightly geeky bent, one of the highlights of the opening ceremony was the appearance of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web. "This is for everyone," was the message he sent via Twitter to the world from the stadium.

"Who he?" was the reaction of the NBC commentators. They went on to suggest that viewers should Google Berners-Lee to find out more.

An operation which, as many people swiftly pointed out, would have been impossible if a great British scientist had not come up with an idea he called the web more than 20 years ago.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    And the biggest losers, tech or not, seem to be the shops in the venue areas: http://bbc.in/Oj5ga6 and http://bit.ly/OihDpL

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    82 grumpy old man & 77 Bradford

    I'll wager that - if you were the subject of those messages, you wouldn't be quite so happy to laugh it off as free speech

    (...Verbal abuse omitted...)

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Why are (using) Mobile Hotspot's amongst the items prohibited in Olympic Venue's, along with knives firearm's, explosives etc. I can't say I have heard of anything so ridiculous.


    What are the CellCo's afraid of ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    @77: I agree.

    "Celebrities" who have chosen to make themselves accessible to the world and his dog should expect some insults. The tweet in question was a bit below the belt, but there seems to be an increasing swing towards punishing people who make such comments. This is a free country; we supposedly have freedom of speech and expression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Biggest olympic technology failure is the ticketing system that tells you there's availability, then changes its mind when you try to buy, but still claims they are available afterwards.
    And releasing the empty seats to people who are already in the park doesn't help people who can't get tickets at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Re 45: You're being very kind. Having lived there (the US), the average American doesn't know what is happening outside of the local area he lives in. They have a lesser knowledge of their home state, and an even dimmer view of the rest of the US. They have a vague awareness that there are places outside of the US, but aren't really interested in them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Biggest technology failure by the BBC is it's ability to use the channels available to it to continue to broadcast programs that suit an audience with wide-ranging tastes.

    The BBC schedulers have gone so OTT as the BBC tries to justify buying rights to the Olympics.

    There are so many people in the UK who are NOT interested, in Olympics, and if they are, not all are interested in Team GB alone

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I agree. The bits where the experts are doing most of the talking are generally good, but the overall presentation is lamentable. There's so much trivia, and it's yet another sign of the BBC apparently changing itself to tabloid journalism, for a core audience age of 15 to 25. It's getting so bad I've found more stimulation of the brain cells in 'Robot Wars' on Dave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Twitter technology

    However despicable someone's Tweets are, do we really want the police & courts dealing with hurtful comments ?

    This has all come from judges interpretation of discrimination laws, politicians need to legislate to bring some common sense.

    Sticks & stones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Of course you're absolutely right, though I'd not have mentioned Bletchley, and put more stress on Arpanet, but that's only quibbling. What horrified me though was the negative marking you got. There seem to be people around who mark down what they don't like even if it's true. Reminds me of 1984 and Winston Smith rewriting the Times every day amending the truth to meet the Party's view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Swann was second in the race for the electric light. The winner was an American called Hiram Maxim, who got ripped off by Edison. He left the U.S. in disgust for England, and his fortunes only changed when a friend made a remark "The world is going to hell. The only way an inventor can make money is to invent a better killing machine" So Maxim invented the first proper machine gun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Given that the only refreshment allowed are McDonald and Coca Cola, the crashing of Visa has most likely contributed to a drastic overnight reduction in the obesity of people who just watch sport without actually doing any activity whatsoever. I will next week have a fresh continental breakfast at home and then cycle to the event I've booked = health + no money for hideous corporations. A winner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    "The internet was around long before the world wide-web"

    Spot on, Rufus McDufus. Inspired by a BBC story (thanks!) about Coursera, who offer free online university-level learning, I am studying Internet history - middle of week 2 (of 7) and we haven't got near the web yet. Bletchley Park first, now Arpanet and NSFNet linking firstly universities and then anyone who wanted to link in...

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Sounds like you are really jealous of anybody doing well for themselves, you obviously have proof of corruption so why not report it to the police, oh I know someone down the pub told you and they now someone else who had proof. Most people made unemployed get on with looking for a new job not sit and moan like you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Not surprised to see the Americans didn't know whe Sir Tim Berners-Lee is, this from the country that made the movie putting forward Edison as the inventor of the electric light when in fact it was Joseph Swann from Sunderland

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    People are being made unemployed and homeless whilst we are supposed to gawp at a 'celebration' of waste, corruption and elitism.
    Were it not for the 'moderators' I would tell you exactly what to do with the 'olympics' and every other london-centric insult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    NBC! total bunch of AMATEURS!!! This not the first time they messed up.. Apparently they cut out the beautifully choreographed tribute to the victims of the 7/7 bombings. A total bunch of idiots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Average uk male - that's the problem - gutless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    66. Average-UK-Male
    >>>..You just cant stop moaning, I bet most of you are a bundle of fun (not), its about time you started backing this country or if you cant do that then leave.

    It's incredible that you can equate backing this corporate-fest (with the actual athletics on the sideline) with backing Britain. They really did sell it to you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Having just read through a lot of the comments here the Australians are right to describe us as winging Poms. You just cant stop moaning, I bet most of you are a bundle of fun (not), its about time you started backing this country or if you cant do that then leave.


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