Olympic technology winners and losers
- 30 July 2012
- From the section Technology
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.
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.
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."
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.