Ofcom prepares for record spectrum demand at London 2012 Games

Demand from wireless technologies that will help ensure the smooth running of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will more than double within London during the seven week event, according to analysis by Ofcom.

Careful management of London’s airwaves will be essential for the coverage and organisation of the London 2012 Games. The event presents a unique logistical challenge never faced before by the UK, with a need to assign up to 20,000 wireless frequencies to be used for the Games in London, more than double the number usually assigned in a year. However, Ofcom has been working on a plan since 2006 to ensure that viewers will not miss any of the sporting action.

Demand will be fuelled by the increasing use of wireless technologies by broadcasters, such as wireless cameras and wireless microphones, which will deliver dramatic and close-up action coverage to the estimated global audience of over 4 billion viewers. The extensive use of walkie-talkies by the organisers, talkback systems for broadcasters, timing and scoring systems and sports commentary systems for the audience, will also be essential for the organisation of the Games.

Around 26,000 members of the world’s media will base themselves in the capital to cover the Games, making London 2012 the biggest media event in history. However, getting the glimmer of gold medals and the blur of world records into viewers’ living rooms will depend on spectrum – a limited resource that you can’t see, hear or touch.

From cameras on motorbikes tracking Mark Cavendish’s progress in the cycle road race to camera crews inside the Olympic stadium aiming to get that special picture of stars like Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis or Mo Farah, broadcasters and the media will be placing more demand on the UK’s spectrum reserves than ever before.

It is expected that the demand will come from the following sources: Increased use of wireless cameras to achieve more dramatic and close-up action shots; More wireless microphones to add flexibility in capturing the sounds of the Games; Wireless location, timing and scoring technology to give more detailed and immediate information about the event as it happens; Wireless communications used by team members, sports officials, organisers and support staff; Sports commentaries distributed wirelessly to the venue audience for the benefit of hearing and visually impaired spectators; The use of wireless communications by security and emergency staff to keep everyone at the event safe.

However, spectrum within London is already being used at full capacity for many applications that will be used at the London 2012 Games.

To meet the extra demands of broadcasters, media and the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) during Games time, Ofcom has developed a plan to secure additional capacity. This will be achieved in four main ways: By borrowing spectrum on a short-term basis from public sector bodies, such as the Ministry of Defence; Ensuring that civil spectrum is used efficiently by making unused frequencies available. An example of this is spectrum that will shortly be auctioned by Ofcom, but is currently not being used; Making use of spectrum freed up by the digital switchover; Using spectrum that is available without the need for a licence.

In preparation for the increased demand for spectrum during the Games, Ofcom has been running a series of test events during 2011 and 2012. These have taken place at high profile events such as the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey, the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone and the Sail for Gold event at Weymouth. Ofcom will also be responsible for managing the airwaves during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which will take place between 2-5 June 2012.

Because there is only a limited supply of spectrum, it is important that it is both efficiently used and carefully allocated to ensure that interference is minimised. To make sure this happens, Ofcom has built a state-of-the-art spectrum assignment system that will carefully manage access to spectrum, keeping it both free for those who need it and free of interference.

In addition, a modern sensor network has also been built across the country to identify any interference issues before they arise.

And Ofcom will be deploying an especially large team of radio engineers to track down and deal with any cases of interference that do occur. Ofcom is supplementing its field engineering team with expert colleagues from other European countries.

Ofcom’s Chief Operating Officer, Jill Ainscough, said: “The UK’s airwaves are already among the most intensively used in the world. The London 2012 Games will significantly increase demand. Ready and prepared for this challenge, Ofcom recognises that there is no room for complacency. We are working behind the scenes to make this capacity available, to ensure that this demand is met.”

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