US company questions if UK mobile networks will cope at 2012 Olympics

ADC, a US-based communications and networking specialist, said it fears networks will fail to provide adequate coverage when it is needed most at the London 2012 Olympics.

This week a digital radio communications system for the police was rolled out in all of London’s Underground tube stations as a result of the 2006 London Assembly report stating poor communication had negatively affected rescue efforts after the 7 July terror attacks.

Despite the fact that it was recommended the system be improved after the King’s Cross Underground fire more than 21 years ago, only the British Transport Police were able to communicate underground via radio during the 2005 attacks. Fire crews and ambulance staff use similar systems, although neither has been fully implemented.

Despite making improvements, concerns have been raised as to whether the new system will be able to cope with peak demands during the 2012 Olympics. The Commons home affairs committee claimed that the network struggles when large numbers of users are concentrated in the same area, while a security source predicts demand may increase in 2012 by 25% to 30% leading to the possibility of a complete network failure.

ADC understands that providing comprehensive coverage to the London Underground’s 270 stations and 249 miles of track is no mean feat, but believes it is essential that such a system be resilient enough to cope with changes to capacity requirements.

John Spindler, vice president at ADC, argued that during preparations for the Olympics, any gaps in the network need to be filled as soon as possible: “As previous extraordinary situations have shown, networks can often struggle to cope with short periods of increased traffic. The Olympics will last for two weeks and will lead to a sustained increase in activity in specific locations. In order for the event to run smoothly it is imperative that all of the emergency services are able to maintain communication links the entire period.”

The lack of coverage for public safety systems raises even greater concerns about how cellular network operators will cope with skyrocketing demand for coverage and capacity in cellular networks, especially with the rollouts of 3G and 4G data services. Of particular concern is whether London’s cellular networks will be able to cope with peak demands during the 2012 Olympics.

Spindler continued: “Providing sufficient coverage for the emergency services is not the only communications challenge that will be exacerbated by the 2012 Olympics. The East End will see a mass influx of additional visitors who will expect to be able to use their mobile phones and other wireless devices at all times, placing a massive strain on the existing infrastructure.

“In addition, stadiums are notoriously bad at providing the coverage required to enable satisfactory mobile service. Organisers need to ensure that this problem is considered as building is taking place and not as an afterthought. Rather than using the ‘tall tower’ approach that can lead to gaps in the network, carriers need to be installing discreet remote antennas in a greater number of locations. By reducing the size of cells and increasing the number of cells, carriers will guarantee an improved service for a greater number of users.”

ADC has past experience at providing communications solutions for the Olympics. At the 2008 Alberta Winter Games the company’s InterReach Fusion in-building cellular system was used to deliver advanced cellular coverage and capacity for the Black Gold Centre in Leduc, a rapidly growing city south of Edmonton and site of the 2008 Alberta Winter Games. ADC will also be involved with the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in Canada.

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