£50m on Network for London 2012 - Money well spent

Deep in the planning for London 2012, O2’s Chief Operating Officer, Derek McManus, shares the complexities around event capacity planning and explains why O2 has committed so much for the Games…

Our Network is the core of our business and is used by millions of people, every moment of every day. My team spends the equivalent of £1.5m a day improving and scaling it to meet the needs of our 22m customers. But it’s not an easy job.

Derek McManus

Last year we built 1550 new mobile masts across the country, which were needed to cater for all the new, powerful smartphones that our customers are so keen to get hold of. But it can take anything up to two years to ‘switch on’ a new mast, because of the complex planning and regulatory environment in the UK, challenges in finding the perfect location and the time it takes to build.

Imagine then, the complexity of planning for London 2012, where we will not only see an intense concentration of our own customers all wanting to use their phones at the sporting venues; but we will also be host to thousands of tourists too, who will want to use our network bandwidth just as much as we do.

The mobile industry is expecting to cater for 80 million mobile phone users in 100 different event locations next summer. But it’s not just about the volume of people. We know that the nature of sporting and entertainment events means that we see huge spikes in traffic at key moments, such as when a goal is scored, or a number one song is played. It’s the equivalent of rush hour on the underground.

And as an industry, we have been planning for over two years and O2 alone has invested £50m in London 2012 – increasing capacity on the current network and building new temporary sites across the country. On top of that, Wi-Fi will also play a huge role for those people who will want to use data services at the Games, including Facebook and Twitter.

We’ve also been learning from recent events…

In November last year, we experimented with a world-first network technique at Twickenham Stadium – the home of England Rugby. We cut the network like a cake, to give 8 times the number of antennas and amount of data capacity to the stadium. The results have been very encouraging. We now see 99% network access success rate, even when the Stadium is full to capacity. And we had similar success at the Royal Wedding. We saw a 25% increase in traffic in London on the wedding day, but as a result of our preparations, our Network was only running at 80% capacity, meaning service was running as normal for our customers.

As we count down the final 12 months ahead of London 2012, my team will be working closely with the wider industry to share our learnings. Following the success of the Twickenham trial, we are championing deployment across numerous stadia nationwide and the Olympic park venues.

We’re up against some hurdles but we’ll aim to achieve a personal best for next summer. Watch this space – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.