Tech takes gold

Rio de Janeiro pulled out all the stops to ensure the technological bases were covered at this year's Olympic Games.

Read time 4min 20sec

This month, viewers from around the world watched as Brazil hosted the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. While more than 10 000 athletes from 206 countries competed for gold, silver and bronze medals, some of the leaders in the world of IT were taking responsibility for the myriad infrastructures needed to support many thousands of exceptional user experiences over the Olympic Games' 16-day duration.

Reports indicate more than 60 tons of equipment was needed to form the high-speed networks linking the 37 competition venues, with a further 183 key sites, including training facilities, media and hospitality centres as well as hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, cafes and bars.

The result was a modern multi-technology solution - centring on a massive subscription-based, encrypted WiFi network - that ensured data and voice traffic was communicated efficiently on behalf of all mobile operators providing services at the event.

The infrastructure, featuring customised management software, comprised more than 100 000 network ports, 5 000 access points and 150 firewalls powered by 400 servers.

Flying first class

Rio de Janeiro's International Airport, the main hub for travellers to and from the Olympics, has processed 1.5 million people so far this month. To handle the peak of 90 000 per day, the airport's IT team worked with HPE's Aruba Networks to install the latest technology networking equipment.

New access points, controllers, switches and network management software were installed at the airport, along with 3 000 Aruba beacons, which helped deliver a customised mobile app designed to give visitors up-to-the-minute flight status.

NBC, the official media partner of the Olympics, used cloud technology to help stream its coverage of the Games to online viewers. The cloud also provided encoding and hosting services for NBC's on-demand videos, which covered nearly 5 000 hours of sporting action. Authorised users could also stream content live via a variety of platforms - from Android to Apple.

Information dissemination reached new levels of sophistication - and complexity - at the Games. Specialists from Europe were called in to design and build a Games Management System, which supported the planning and operations of the event. Handling a vast quantity of athlete-related information, it was supported by an information diffusion system that delivered real-time results to the Olympics community, including the media. It included a commentator information system for broadcasters, as well as specific portals for judges, coaches and sponsors.

Information dissemination reached new levels of sophistication.

In the light of global developments, security was one of the most important aspects of the Games. Mobility and technology worked together to enhance security by ensuring each mobile device - phone, tablet or laptop - entering all 220 official venues went through a frequency scan and was authenticated.

Fit to burst

The network also had to control a virtual explosion in wearable devices, many used by athletes to monitor their on-track performances and body functions, such as heart rate, temperature and hydration levels.

Providing the highest levels of security and control, the infrastructures had to enforce security isolation between mobile device users. It also had to limit access to other users' traffic and to mission-critical services that shared underlying networks, such as maintenance systems and video surveillance networks.

Credit for the overwhelming success of the Games must go to the organisers, who encouraged the pioneering technologies adopted in Brazil. These included solutions capable of 'pushing' customised marketing-related content to people based on their location - be it in the stands or fan parks - which is fast becoming a valued tool at sporting events.

The organisers also followed in the footsteps of their sporting event promotor predecessors by meeting sports fans' demands for ever-greater access to venue- and event-specific content.

As a result, the 80 000 spectators who packed the stands at the Maracan~a Stadium for the spectacular closing ceremony were able to use their phones for much more than selfies. They were also able to interact on social media, sharing their experiences with family, friends and followers by posting pictures, sending messages and making calls.

Many spectators became broadcasters in their own right by recording reactions to significant or historic moments. Thanks to technology, much of which has evolved since the 2012 London Games, spectators were able to take full advantage of breaks in competition and moments of inactivity to 'multiplatform' - watch, like, comment and discuss on multiple screens - using Twitter, Instagram and other services.

How will technology impact the experiences of athletes and spectators at the Tokyo Games in 2020? There is no doubt that further leaps will be made, allowing people to gain an even richer sporting experience. The requirements for always-on best technology can only gain momentum.

Andy Robb

Technology specialist at Duxbury Networking.

In his role as CTO, Andy Robb is Duxbury Networking's chief technologist and technical advisor, responsible for the company's strategic technical direction. Robb oversees quality of service delivery and product management. He holds a number of industry product-related qualifications as well as continuing with further tertiary qualifications. Prior to becoming CTO, Robb held a variety of positions at Duxbury Networking, including technical manager, product manager and senior systems engineer. He has been with Duxbury Networking since 2000.

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