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Businesses left in dark over Olympic broadband crunch

With fewer than 100 days to go to the Olympics, businesses have not been publicly told whether to expect disruption to broadband services, as warned by LOCOG
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

With the Olympic Games in London less than three months away, businesses have still not been told publicly whether there will be disruption to broadband services that could affect employees working remotely during the event.

Olympic Stadium

With fewer than 100 days to go to the Olympics, businesses have not been publicly told whether to expect disruption to broadband services, as warned by LOCOG. Image credit: Charles McLellan

The official advice from London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to London businesses is that they should be prepared for potential limitations on connectivity.

"Internet services may be slower during the Games or in very severe cases there may be drop-outs due to an increased number of people accessing the internet," LOCOG said in the document (PDF). "In addition, ISPs may introduce data caps during peak times to try and spread the loading and give a more equal service to their entire customer base. However, this has not yet been confirmed by these ISPs, and we hope to have more information nearer to Games time."

But with the Olympics less than 100 days away, no ISP, official body or government organisation has announced whether companies can rest easy about the prospect of limited broadband connectivity. Those approached by ZDNet UK said they were not responsible for communicating this to the business community.

"LOCOG is committed to working with the government and other stakeholders to help businesses prepare for the Games," the organisation told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "LOCOG has no input into data caps or ISP plans."

In addition, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) both told ZDNet UK that the responsibility does not lie with them. Regulator Ofcom also said that such disruption does not fall under its remit.

Olympic planning

As part of the Olympic planning, businesses are being urged to allow employees to work from home where possible, to avoid congestion on the public transport network. This implies companies will need to know well in advance of the Olympics what the effect on broadband services will be in order to plan around it, both for in-office staff and people working from home.

For example, there has been a lot of communication around public transport in the capital during the Games, with Transport for London (TfL) in charge of telling people of likely congestion on the roads, Underground and bus network. However, the same oversight has not been given to any company or government department relating to broadband provision; instead, businesses are being left to work it out on their own.

ISPA members are confident that the network, on the whole, will be able to cope, even though there is the potential for a massive hit on the infrastructure.

For example, the London Business Network — an organisation set up in 2006 to ensure the city's businesses benefit from hosting the Olympic Games — said it does not have the resources to do anything other than direct companies that are concerned to LOCOG's advice and then to contact their individual ISPs.

The trade body for broadband suppliers, the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), confirmed that some ISPs may resort to traffic management to handle demand during this summer's event.

"ISPA members have been busy investing in their networks ahead of the Olympics and are confident that the network, on the whole, will be able to cope, even though there is the potential for a massive hit on the infrastructure due to the unprecedented amount of content available and devices to watch it on," an ISPA spokesman said.

"Service providers are not expected to cap data use, but may use technology to manage the network at peak times to prevent access from stalling completely," he added.

Some ISPs said they have consulted with business customers over the demand for services during the Olympics and are in the process of putting extra capacity in place. However, in general, they have not shared specific details of what their customers can expect, and none acknowledge that this might be an issue.

Home workers

The issue of disruption is likely to apply more to residential broadband services, which are likely to be put under extra pressure by the home workers. Some ISPs noted that connectivity for businesses usually comes backed by service-level agreements (SLAs) and that data caps are not appropriate for enterprise-level services.

"We have a number of quality-of-service mechanisms in place across the Easynet core network to ensure that different types of service — real-time, VPN data, internet — are given the appropriate allocations of bandwidth in the unlikely event that congestion occurs. This will ensure that business-critical services continue to function as normal throughout the Olympics," an Easynet spokeswoman said in a statement. "We're not an ISP, so data caps aren't applicable for our customers." 

The more consumer-focused ISPs appear to have a range of different approaches and plans in place, but none of them specifically said how they would inform customers of any effect on their service, or even if any is predicted.

Service as normal?

Virgin Media said that while there will be no effect on connectivity during the period, extremely high demand for services could result in slight delays when loading web pages. It acknowledged it has not explicitly announced to London residents and businesses that it will be providing service as normal. However, it said it will now consider the best way to tell customers of its Olympics plans in due course, including making use of multiple social-media channels.

Orange, Virgin Media and O2 said they do not plan to introduce any additional measures, such as throttling or usage caps, during the Games. "We can confirm we will not be introducing any data caps or changes to our existing service and will have adequate capacity to cope with additional demand," Orange told ZDNet UK.

Similarly, BT said it predicted higher than normal demand on its network, but said it has been working to increase capacity to meet this. It added that it did not foresee needing any additional control measures.

"It is difficult to predict exactly how high or when the demand peaks might be as this depends on a variety of factors, including how well Team GB performs," a BT spokeswoman said. "We do not anticipate any changes to our services at this moment. However should such a situation arise, we will notify customers through our usual channels."

TalkTalk would not be drawn on whether its customers would be subject to additional traffic control measures. "We have been working closely with our key third-party suppliers, including BT Openreach, to understand their mitigation plans and try to prepare for all eventualities," a TalkTalk spokesman said.

Other ISPs, including Zen and Demon, did not respond to a request for information.

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