Volume of mobile tweets at Games so high it interfered with Olympic broadcast

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Twitter have worked closely in recent weeks to promote the microblog service as a means to engage with athletes, competitions and London 2012. But mobile social media users are proving so voluminous  at some Olympic venues that they are now interfering with mobile networks on which the games themselves depend, the IOC says.

During Olympic cycling road races this weekend, television broadcasters say they were let down by a lack of official timing data supplied by the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS). One BBC commentator relied on his own stopwatch.

IOC communications director said (via Guardian.co.uk): “From my understanding, one network was oversubscribed, and OBS are trying to spread the load to other providers.”

Adams did not name the underperforming network. And his plea to tweeters, in the circumstances, goes against the social media project the IOC had tried to create: “We don’t want to stop people engaging in this by social media and sending updates, but perhaps they might consider only sending urgent updates.”

What constitutes an “urgent” Olympic tweet is anyone’s guess. But the request is ironic in light of the IOC’s own social media commitment. That Twitter has undone coverage in this way is even more delightfully ironic for those onlookers who enjoy comparing the relative fortunes of each medium. Unlike the TV data issue, consumers do not yet appear to have experienced mobile signal issues during the games.

The UK’s five main mobile carriers had banded together with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to plan out 3G signal requirements around London well in advance.

“The demands that will be placed on the networks will be like having four royal weddings per day for 17 consecutive days,” Stuart Newstead, chair of the Mobile Experience Group, which represents TV and internet broadcasters and mobile networks at the games, told Bloomberg. “Like any of the athletes, we’ve prepared as well as we could and whatever happens, happens.”

Before the games began, I asked each network their plans to guarantee sufficient coverage – here’s what they said…

Everything Everywhere (Orange and T-Mobile):

“We’ve been preparing for London 2012 since before Orange and T-Mobile merged to become Everything Everywhere (mid-2010), investing millions of pounds to ensure a good experience for both British and international visitors to the Olympics…

“Our network specialists have looked to previous global and national events, and analysed sites around the UK where we expect additional demand over the course of the Summer – including tourist attractions, transport hubs and sporting venues, and upgraded hundreds of key sites to cope with additional demand.

“We’ve also increased measures in place to maintain service and operational stability during the games. Additional field maintenance resource in the areas of the country most affected are in place, alongside dedicated incident managers to ensure a very rapid response time to any service-affecting incidents.

“The Joint Operators Olympic Group (JOOG) is also providing as much capacity as possible using external mobile base stations in the Olympic Park to support the number of visitors expected each day. The operators have built 30 sites across the Olympic Park including 14 in-building solutions. At off-park venues, a further 17 temporary sites are being provided to add additional capacity.”


The company referred us to COO Derek McManus’ September 2011 blog post, in which he said:

“As an industry, we have been planning for over two years and O2 alone has invested £50m in London 2012 – increasing capacity on the current network and building new temporary sites across the country. The mobile industry is expecting to cater for 80 million mobile phone users in 100 different event locations.”


“We are investing in excess of £1.5 million per day in our network this year and have weighted that investment towards the first half of 2012 in preparation for a busy summer.

“We have accelerated network upgrade and deployment work and are in the process of optimizing our network in London to ensure our customers have a great experience. We are also putting in place extra coverage in public spaces such as Hyde Park and other areas where we know there will be a large number of people.

“We expect to see high demand for all services during the Games as more and more customers use smartphones to access the internet and social network sites. On an average day, we handle upwards of 45TB (terabytes) of data, 90 million calls and 155 million texts. Obviously we are expecting a significant increase on that level of demand, but we are experts in forecasting demand and optimizing our network – in real time – to cope with high usage.

“We have an elite team of engineers dedicated to preparing for special events. Recently, for instance, they ensured that visitors to London were able to call, text, tweet and upload pictures during the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.

“Meanwhile, our Network Operations Centre (NOC) at our headquarters in Newbury gives us real-time visibility of traffic and enables our team of engineers to dial up capacity when and where we need it. For example, on New Year’s Eve 2011 our network was comfortably handling 12,000 texts a second and we saw well over a million people log on to Facebook, through their phones, in the space of a couple of hours. Volumes of texts were up 25% from the previous year, as was data traffic.

“We’ve also been working with our colleagues in New Zealand and South Africa to take on board the experiences from other recent large-scale worldwide sporting events.”


“We have worked in partnership with JOOG (Joint Operator Olympic Group) to build additional and dedicated capacity at the Olympic venues in London and across the country. This work has coincided with our on-going network improvement programme both in the capital and UK-wide

“We’ve upgraded sites at around 500 different locations and have also upgraded most of our sites nationally to the very latest and quickest 3G technology (HSPA+). Later this summer, we will move to Dual-Carrier HSDPA equipment, potentially doubling the speed customers can currently get.

“In addition, we have been busy installing Ethernet backhaul across our entire network to ensure that the cables which carry traffic from sites to our core network are not only quicker than ever before, but have more capacity both now and in the future.”