London 2012 Olympics Are Built For Mobile, Says LOCOG CIO

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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London will leave a great IT legacy says Gerry Pennell

The CIO of LOCOG, the organising committee for this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in London, has said that the “rise of the smartphone” will influence much of its planning for the Games.

Much of what LOCOG has learned from London 2012 can be passed on to organisers of Rio De Janeiro 2016, including some of the software, said Jerry Pennell,also predicting that cloud computing will have a role to play in future Olympics.

Lasting legacy

“Economically, it will make a lot of sense for the Olympic to be a cloud operation, but the infrastructure hasn’t matured sufficiently yet,” said Pennell, explaining that the applications necessary simply aren’t yet written for use in the cloud. “It’s quite a big transition. It is something I think that the Olympic movement will have to do, but the maturity isn’t there yet for something as mission critical as the Olympic Games.”

In November there will be a “comprehensive debrief” with the organisers of the Rio de Janeiro games and LOCOG will “hand over as much as we can,” he said.

“We’ve certainly learnt a lot about where the consumer technology is moving, especially smartphones and what that means for mobile infrastructure and investment in Wi-Fi,” he continued. “Specifically in terms of legacy, there’s quite a lot actually. It’s the first time a converged telephone network has been rolled out, I think that will become the baseline.”

“On the software side, a lot of the results software is new for London and that will be part of the legacy to the next Olympic Games,” he said. “Some of the stuff we’ve been using internally on the applications side in terms of information and the ability to have it on your own PC for journalists, applications for mobile phones, all these things will either be passed on as they are to future games or with future expectation requirements.”

Mobile trends

Mobile trends were one of the key things that LOCOG learned from the Beijing Olympics in 2008, with the official app for London 2012 going live recently. It is currently available for iOS and Android, although apps for Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices are imminent. Pennell said that demand from mobile devices affected LOCOG’s plans for London 2012.

“Probably one of the biggest changes between Beijing and London 2012 is the rise of the smartphone and the tablet,” he explained. “Not just the fact that the equipment is there, but that the expectations have changed. People now expect to get Olympic results in the palm of their hand on these devices, so it’s a really big change.”

“We can’t from a LOCOG perspective do much about the national 3G infrastructure – it is what it is – but we can do is around our venues, in particular the Olympic Park.”

LOCOG set up a partnership with other operators and BT to create a shared infrastructure to improve wireless capacity and signal quality, a project which Pennell said has improved the situation, but he admitted not even that was enough. This prompted BT’s investment in the “planet’s largest high-density” Wi-Fi network in the Olympic Park, which Pennell says will “provide users with a pretty good experience should they choose to take it.”

Nearly one quarter of the organising budget for an Olympic Games goes on technology to support the 5,500 people involved in the operation, said Pennell, providing information to spectators, athletes, commentators and journalists. The scale of the operation is huge, but Pennell is cautiously optimistic it will be successful.

“We’re in a pretty good place, but it’s not over until it’s over,” he said.

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