While football teams from around Europe are battling it out on the pitch during Euro 2012, mobile coverage is also proving a game of two halves for tournament co-host Poland.
Mobile has been figuring highly on the agenda of companies hoping to profit from Euro 2012, as well as organisations that offer services aimed at supporters. The competition has seen a range of Euro 2012 themed apps launched, and in Poland QR codes seem to be printed everywhere (even on the stadiums' plastic beer glasses, courtesy of the main sponsor) to take fans direct to the apps or to information on useful local services including travel.
The impact of mobile hasn't been far from operators minds either. During the tournament, four Polish cities will play host to soccer matches: Wroclaw, Warsaw, Gdansk and Poznan. To keep cope with the increased mobile traffic during the competition that fans, each of Poland's four main operators has placed extra mobile masts at one of the cities' stadiums: PTK Centertel, which operates under the Orange brand, in Wroclaw; Polkomtel in Warsaw; T-Mobile in Gdansk; and P4 in Poznan. Wroclaw saw 160 masts put in from Orange, while T-Mobile added 66 in Gdansk.
Voice vs data
During the group stages, more than two million fans watched the matches in the fanzones alone. The country's largest operator PTK Centertel experienced a "significant' increase" in data consumption during the group stages, while P4, the fourth largest mobile operator in Poland, reported a spike in data usage around the fanzones, albeit one dwarfed by voice, which saw a tenfold increase in usage.
Changes in data usage differed remarkably between the zones, according to P4: for example, the fanzone in Gdansk saw an eightfold increase in data consumption during the matches, while it doubled in Wroclaw.
The differences are more down to the location of the fanzones, rather than the data-savviness of a particular group of supporters.
Where the zone is located in a city centre, the percentage increase is comparatively smaller, as city centres will typically see a higher level of traffic during the day. In Gdansk's case, the fanzone is outside the city centre, so normal daytime traffic is quite low. Wroclaw on the other hand has turned its entire city centre into one big supporter haven; normal data usage there is already quite high.
Using Poland's operators haven't always got the ball in the back of the net when it comes to mobile services: when the home team opened the tournament against Greece on 8 June, getting a tweet out from the crowded Warsaw fanzone (150,000 people in and around a small area) was next to impossible, as this editor found out.
And while Orange, the official Euro 2012 sponsor in Poland, has put in a new ROADM network for audio and video transmission, along with the extra antennae, a spokesman said the 70 or so upgrade projects it completed ahead of the tournament do not represent a higher than normal level of spending for the operator.
The theory has long been that countries like Poland are overtaking the West when it comes to mobile internet consumption, enabling them to skip the rollout of now-outdated technologies. Last year during a press briefing last year, T-Systems CEO Reinhard Clemens claimed that Central and Eastern Europe are on par, if not leapfrogging, Western Europe on mobile internet infrastructure. For Poland, for now at least, such words need to be taken with a pinch of salt.