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Olympics ‘could break the internet’

The statement above is the headline of an Inquirer story published on Monday 6th Feb based on information taken from a PDF distributed by London 2012 to help businesses prepare for the Olympics. The headline may be a bit sensationalist – ‘may cause internet access to be slow for some’ isn’t quite as eye-catching – but there are some valid points to take on board:

1. The main issue is the expected increase in volume of usage of the internet by locals and visitors alike. The problem though is not the internet itself (or more correctly the ‘backbone’ of high capacity links that form the network), it is the local broadband access via services like ADSL and cable which may become overloaded at exchanges and concentration points. Many of these services are based on a ‘contention┬áratio’, sometimes as high as 50:1, which relies on not everyone using their internet connection at the same time for good performance to be maintained. Business ADSL/SDSL services typically have a much lower contention ratio (around 10:1 or lower) and if you are relying on internet access during the Games it would be wise to check this for your provider. At events we operate at we typically only use services which have a 1:1 contention ratio to eliminate this risk. Services such as optic fibre and leased lines in general should also have a 1:1 ratio.

2. Exchange congestion is another concern as many broadband ADSL providers use BT infrastructure to provide their service. Again it can be the case that there is element of contention across the services leading to a slowdown. This area is harder to deal with but providers who are using an LLU (“Local Loop Unbundled”)┬áservice have more control over their capacity so should be able to manage performance better. Again at events we will always an LLU service wherever possible and in fact in many locations we do not traverse any BT infrastructure other than the ‘last mile’ copper pairs or fibre.

3. Site-to-Site internet links are a concern for businesses where they have multiple sites connected via a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which traverses the internet, as any general congestion will also impact their site to site links. This is a deeper technical discussion based on needs but one approach is what is known as an ‘MPLS network’ which routes data between sites without it going out onto the true public internet. This is generally only possible if the same connectivity provider is used at all locations (this is an approach we use for larger and more complex multi-site events) which can have significant benefits.

4. Home based or remote workers will be another challenge as it is expected that far more people will work from home during the Games and many companies do not have capacity for everyone to be connected remotely on a VPN at the same time. The issues above may apply to the home based or remote worker but in addition it is important that the central location has enough internet capacity and infrastructure to deal with all these additional users.

5. We all know what happens to mobile networks at a large event and the situation is expected to be similar during the Games. Yes lots of additional capacity will be put in place but there is only so much the mobile operators can do so it would be wise to assume there will be problems. In the events area it will be much safer to deploy a standalone phone system (VoIP/DECT) which will operate outside of the mobile network. Another aspect to consider is any ‘chip & pin’ payment terminals as many of these operate using the mobile GPRS network which may have issues during the Games. The alternative is Wi-Fi/IP based units which operate over an internet connection – assuming the issues above have been considered!

In summary, it is wise to examine internet provision at locations and at home if it is a critical service as there could well be impacts but with the right planning and service provision these issues can be minimised. For events organisers, especially those organising events in London during the Games period, it is very important that internet access is considered as soon as possible and the right level of provision is made – where in previous years a normal ADSL line has sufficed the risk this year may make it wise to change this to a businesss service which does not have contention issues.

If you are concerned about internet access provision and performance during the games then contact us at 2012@www.etherlive.co.uk

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