Going Wacky for Wireless at the Sochi Olympics

sochi-olympics-winter-logo-qtoothThere will be many firsts at the Sochi Olympics and we are not just talking about the sporting events. There is also a brand new public, state of the art ultrafast wireless network so people can make the most of their Olympic experience using their smartphones and tablets.

Two local phone companies were awarded contracts by President Vladimir Putin to install the half a billion dollar network. It promises to deliver plenty of network capacity and data speeds that should average ten times the Russian national average. Although the two companies, MegaFon and OAO Rostelecom, may never get a full return on their investment, they hope that it will raise their visibility and reputations as true global players in the wireless telecom market. We’re pretty sure Putin wouldn’t mind a bump in his street cred among the tech savvy either.

It’s interesting to note that they may have overdone it. MegaFon has installed 900 base stations and antennas on the two square kilometers (0.8 square mile) that will host most of the competitions. Tigran Pogosyan, head of MegaFon’s Sochi project, has reportedly said that according to their advisers at Qualcomm, the San Diego-based wireless technology company, it is the highest density of mobile equipment anywhere in the world. However, after the games are done this is far more than is needed for that area. Perhaps they could formulate a plan to re-use the equipment elsewhere.

Palm Trees at the Winter Olympics?

palm-tree-antenna-sochi-qtoothMost people do not associate palm trees with the Winter Olympics. However, due to its unique geography, Sochi is one of those places where warm body of water that keeps things relatively mild all year round but is still close enough that for a quick drive to mountains whose elevations provide the perfect conditions for snow. Being based in Los Angeles, QTOOTH is quite familiar with this arrangement. and it looks like the folks at Sochi have gotten hip to something that those in Southern California have made use of for quite a few years now: wireless base station towers disguised as palm trees.

Most stadiums and convention centers use as few as a single base station to transmit mobile phone calls and data. Each of Olympic venues in Sochi, on the other hand, have dozens. The main stadium, the Fisht, has thirty just to itself! Because of the sheer density of wireless towers and antennas, MegaFon wisely decided to camouflage them by disguising them as the local flora. Wise choice, and it definitely goes a long way to keeping Sochi beautiful.

It Looked Good in Practice. How About in Performance?

MegaFon expected data speeds to average 35 megabits a second at the Sochi Olympics. To give you a comparison, Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, advertises speeds of 5 to 12 megabits for its 4G connections.

So far, the performance of the network has seen mixed reviews. It works great… when it works. There seems to be spotty reception in some areas. Some have also experienced block outs where they can’t get on the network, most likely from the overload of too many users and not enough bandwidth. It’s seems a fair to cut the providers some slack, though. After all, this is virgin territory for all companies no matter where they are from. Similar issues were seen at the 2012 Olympics in London and the situation has only gotten to be more complicated. That was 2 years ago. Since then there has been an incredible worldwide explosion in the number of people using smartphones and tablets. This isn’t just an American or first world phenomenon, athletes and tourists from every corner of the globe are using these devices to surf the web, share photos and watch videos at ever-increasing rates.

Event Access Like Never Before- via Wireless

For the Sochi Olympics, MegaFon developed an application that lets tablet and smartphone users watch live broadcasts and repeats of the competitions. This means that a spectator at an Alpine event could also live stream a hockey game on a tablet screen at the same time. Want one more reason to become an Olympic champion beside getting a medal? Samsung, which sponsors the games, is handing out free Galaxy Note 3 tablets to athletes so they can stay in touch with fans, friends and family.

As we move forward into the wireless world of tomorrow, these types of services will become routine. Cities and venues will already have most, if not all, of the infrastructure in place. The whole thing will seem less of a big deal. Until then, here’s how it’s done. All we need to do is learn how to refine the experience.