Home & Office

Why the 2012 Summer Olympics might melt the Internet

The 2008 Beijing and 2010 Vancouver Games streamed Olympics video without a hitch. But 2012 could be different.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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.

Editorial standards