Why the 2012 Summer Olympics might melt the Internet

Why the 2012 Summer Olympics might melt the Internet

Summary: The 2008 Beijing and 2010 Vancouver Games streamed Olympics video without a hitch. But 2012 could be different.


Way back in 2008 I wrote a series of articles highlighting the video streaming technologies behind the Beijing Summer Olympics. At the time, there was actually some some real concern that demand for watching the video feeds that were live broacast from the event using personal computers would overwhelm Internet pipes at at major ISPs, causing widespread broadband performance issues for residences and businesses.

As it turned out, the video was delivered just fine, and no services at ISPs were disrupted. Much of this was credited towards the resiliency of the solutions and partners that NBC chose -- Akamai Technologies was used for static (small objects) content and Limelight Networks was used for the live video streams. 

That they were both able to accomplish this from around the world and through their network of distributed datacenters and peered ISP connections is nothing short of incredible.

In 2010, Akamai itself was chosen for the streaming technology for Vancouver, and yet again, the video streamed with no problems.

Now, one would think that after two successful Olympics with Internet video streaming technology in place, that the entire process/logistics is baked and we should see yet another a repeat performance by Akamai and its partners such as Cisco who have been selected to live stream over 2,500 hours of video.

This time, however, could be different.

While the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics are credited with flawless streaming technology deployments, the real reason why we didn't see any slowdown or service degradation could very well be that less people were watching the Olympics on the Internet than we expected.

You can credit this to the fact that the Beijing games were happening in an entirely different timezone than the continental United States, and that nobody really wanted to sit in front of a PC to watch replays 12 hours later when they could get medal reports on the web or in their favorite newspaper the next morning when the athletes were asleep.

And let's face it, watching the replays on television or in the wee hours of the morning on those brand new HD TV sets we had all bought that Christmas was sweet. Remember how amazing that opening ceremony looked on your new TV? I'm sure London will look great on my new 70" Sharp Aquos, but China is going to be a tough act to follow.

After all, in August of 2008, there were really no such thing as 3G let alone 4G smartphones -- the original iPhone was only a 2G GSM device that only ran on AT&T, the iPhone 3G was a whole two months old and very few people had them in their hands, and the App Store was a whole one month old.

Android Phones? You can sum that up to a rounding error -- the only device that existed on the market was the T-Mobile G1. Anyone Remember the G1?

As for iPads, Apple TV's and Rokus and other streaming capable devices? The original iPad had only just been announced just as the 2010 Winter Games had ended.

And while yes, there were many 3G AT&T iPhones in circulation by that time, Olympics video streaming to smartphones wasn't exactly a priority app back then and the quality of the experience wasn't really that great given the display resolution of the devices at the time.

The Internet and video streaming of a live event of similar magnitude of the Olympics has just never been tested with the Gob-smacking amount of mobile and wireless broadband devices that exist today.

Compared to 2008, there are literally hundreds of millions of devices that are now enabled to stream around two dozen channels of live high-definition video from London. That's a huge difference from Beijing which was transcoded down from native HD signal coming out of the cameras at each event to 480i standard definition and piped into NBC's studios in New York City.

Also Read:

Vancouver in 2010 was a little bit closer to what we're going to get this year, as they actually fed HD video streams to PCs. But the 3G and 4G devices and tablets and set-tops didn't exist back then.

I think we're due for a rude awakening when everyone on the planet who has a 3G or 4G smartphone and Internet-connected tablet wants to tune into live events at the Olympics this year. But hey, I could be wrong.

Will the 2012 Olympics "Melt" the Internet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Networking, Broadband, Mobility, Smartphones, Tablets, Olympics 2012


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • 3G devices didn't exist in 2010?

    Are you kidding? Yes, the iPad wasn't introduced unti the spring of that year if I recall, but Apple had sold a ton of 3G iPhones up to then.
    • Streaming to iPhone

      was not really a priority back then.
  • Make or Break

    I think if the games are streamed without a hitch it will be a real coup for the BBC and the UK. Almost everyone will be connected over the web somehow even if they're sitting in front of a TV - I will be! Ive got next week off work and I know that i will be watching on TV AND on various websites using my laptop but i will also have my phone giving me more customised updates. It will truly be the first Olympics properly streamed over the web - i just hope the UK shines in front of the world!!! C'Mon Team GB
  • Internet connectivity is the least of our worries.

    The London Olympics is set to be a cock-up of Olympic proportions. It is already many times over budget. The Government promised it would cost us £2.4 billion GBP. It has already cost £6.4 billion GBP more than that!


    The railway workers and border guards are going on strike. The "Olympic" traffic lanes on London's narrow streets and discontinuous urban motorways will bring the rest of the capital's traffic to a standstill. Half the staff working for G4S (formerly Group 4 Securicor) the company in charge of what they laughing describe as "security", have failed to turn up for work!


    Meantime, the army is mounting surface to air missiles on the top of residential blocks - though exactly what they intend to do with them is anybody's guess. As comedian Groucho Marx once quipped, "Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms"


    And the guy organising the whole sad and sorry fiasco, a dumb-assed, jumped-up PE-teacher type called Sebastian Coe cannot tell his arse from his elbow. At one time he was quite a good runner. These days he is called "Lord Coe", and spends his time swanning about with the Olympic elite in big limousines on their specially reserved traffic lanes, all at our expense, of course.

    Meanwhile the IOC is trying to kid us that the Olympics will leave us Brits with some great sporting legacy. In reality this will be a crappy stadium that will eventually be turned into a football pitch, once the legal wrangling is over, and a 100 metre-tall lump of scrap metal that is no use for anything.

    Worst of all, we'll have yet another massive debt, to add to that already shouldered by the taxpayer, thanks to the as-yet-unpunished criminal activities of the banksters at RBS etc.

    So the fact that we might not be able to use our iPhones to watch the only Brit who wins anything score a bronze with his air rifle, is really the least of our worries right now.

    Best wishes, G.
    • As a Brit myself...

      Oh my God, give the man a medal. Britain agrees with you, sir. We completely agree. Nicely said.
    • lol

      You know on the Today show in the United States the mayor of London said that if complaining was an Olympic sport Great Britan would win every time. Congratulations on proving you mayor right. :)
    • Ignore lol..everyone else does.

      You might as well ignore the "lol" person. You said it well how you feel about the situation.

      Good research.
  • I will do my part

    by not watching a single minute of it.
  • Get Real

    The olympics are a bunch of crappy sports no one cares about. I honestly don't know anyone who gives a flying fig about them.

    Never gonna happen.
    • we do

      us olympic fig hurlers beg to differ. Support your figgy team next Thursday. go team GB!!
  • Wrong!

    Just like you were back in 2008, Jason nice rehashing of a 4 year old blog post!
  • Just a tought

    Their is what you call it multicasting built into the design
    of ipv4 and ipv6. in ipv4 its call class E address.
    It is not new already in use many places and apps

    but unfortunately yes the fundermental design of of telecom infrastructure architecture and does not play well with this form of optermized packet routing out of the box ( NAT/ PPPOE ). I doubt that it really has been given too much thought or gained much attension by many isp and copper/wireless/3G/4G infrastructure deployments looking to the future or have foresight to this form distribution end device, house hold behind nat, switch on down road. I hope being done between data centers at least. I may be little wrong here so don't quato me on this. Wireless protocals I have seen some evidence to multicast, but have not actually looked into much or their implementation of any of them to look to what level they have taken it too.. In other words weather they wen the whole hog, to frequence level.

    Usually history has it that most I talk with like to throw the bigger is better at problems.
    Such as to just though bigger data pipe's at every problem instead of just design better or look for better solution, cause easily. For now nothing goes faster than light at least..

    At least in one arena google with start chrome browser, webp ( smartphones/apple and many other things/factors) has caused a shift changing the game..

    The fundermentals how the internet is used has change and its architecture and design will have to change and will get molded once again. Hopefully with more focus on security, and quality.

    Yes it is udp, which means packets can get lost, but you can work around this in many for back bones links using vpns or design for it in the application. check out Dennis Bush UFTP, great application, that I found years ago which saved me from writting my own.

    and if its really time streaming anyways, then you not worried too much about little bit packet loss.... unless you need rewind, or recording. but all this problems can be solved, by good design.