After four years of high expectations, the Games in Rio de Janeiro are finally upon us now. But many open questions remain. These include the readiness of the infrastructure, the Zika virus threat and low ticket sales, among others. In the meantime, though, communications service providers are striving to deliver quality communication services to visitors from around the globe and to transmit the events to TVs and mobile devices worldwide.
For visitors lucky enough to secure tickets for this mega-event, the experience begins at Rio's Galeão International Airport, where the entire network infrastructure was replaced at a cost of R$90 million ($27.3 million), including the rollout of a 100-km optic ring to support wireless services and some 3,000 proximity beacons. Such a welcome seems fitting for what is the most technologically advanced sporting event ever held. If you thought London 2012 was cutting edge, take a look at what service providers are offering this summer, whether you are in Brazil or watching from anywhere around the globe.
The need for effective communication between people during the Olympic Games is a given. But the challenge to enable connectivity for everybody -- citizens, athletes and the more than 500,000 expected visitors from all over the world -- is no easy feat. To address this need, the Organizing Committee has partnered with Claro Brasil, a mobile operator that is part of América Móvil, together with its sister companies Embratel Participações S/A and NET, to improve existing services in the specific areas where events will be held. And they needed to do so while ensuring that service is not impacted for the local population. According to Games CTO Elly Rezende, all the basic tech infrastructure, including telecom backbone and connectivity solutions, is up and running.
In contrast to the 1,500 WiFi access points that met the wireless connectivity needs of the London Games, visitors to Rio can tap into 5,700 such points, located at specific sites within the venues. For some of these sites, mobile carriers have entered into an agreement for a distributed antenna system over 3G and 4G networks. This was the result of a detailed analysis performed together by the Organizing Committee and service providers, which included projected network congestion at 41 sites in order to define wireless equipment requirements.
Visa, too, is jumping on the Games bandwagon to test its NFC-enabled wearable payments ring, which the company will be prototyping with Team Visa athletes. The water-resistant, battery-operated ring, which includes a Gemalto micro-chip and NFC-enabled antenna, is linked to a contact-less prepaid Visa card. It will allow people to make purchases simply by tapping NFC-enabled terminals. Credit can be reloaded via an online portal.
International broadcasters, such as NBC Universal , are broadcasting 85 hours of virtual reality (VR) programming during the Games. The VR coverage includes opening and closing ceremonies, as well as basketball, gymnastics, track and field events and more. The VR coverage is available exclusively on Samsung Gear VR devices and accessed via a special section of the NBC Sports app. To view the content, users must have a pay-TV subscription with a participating broadcaster.
Highlights on the go
In a clear nod to "mobile-first," Snapchat has scored a deal with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s NBC to show event highlights via its app, representing the first time the US network has agreed to share video of the sporting contest. Meanwhile, media company BuzzFeed is curating short clips and behind-the-scenes footage into a pop-up Snapchat Discover channel on the app, while Snapchat is creating daily "live stories" using content from NBC, athletes and sports fans at the scene.
Introducing the eGames
Rio 2016 is also seeing the showcasing of eGames, a virtual sports tournament that, beginning with the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, will run alongside the main event. The competition is being overseen by the newly established International eGames Committee, a non-profit "set up with the aim of positively shaping the future of competitive gaming." The eGames are being held right after each actual event but take place in the same arenas, with teams competing for the standard gold, silver and bronze medals.
Rio in 4K
A range of companies -- including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s Direct TV unit, Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) and Comcast in the US and NHK in Japan -- are working on delivering 4K content to their customers. The coverage includes the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, selected events and, in some cases, interactive information.
For over-the-top providers (OTTs) too, the Games are offering an opportunity to increase their revenue and market share. Thanks to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), fans can now enter any game venue via Google Street View. This provides them with a 360-degree view of all stadiums, arenas and pools. Public transit app company Moovit offers more navigation options, with its launch of an official app that includes integration with Uber. The app is designed to help visitors arrive on time to the venues by identifying the fastest routes from one event to the next. The app includes mapping of 50-km of new public transport lines with traffic information. The company has also added more English-speaking drivers to provide a better customer experience to visitors.
Once users start using these apps, service providers will undoubtedly be pleased by the increase in data consumption. This is despite the availability of 5,700 WiFi hotspots throughout the city, which, although free, cannot compete in terms of speed and security.
By deploying some of the most advanced technology available today, service providers, developers and the city of Rio are all heavily invested in making Rio 2016 the most spectacular sporting event of all time -- in terms of safety, experience and comfort. And everyone in our industry wants a slice of the cake.
But for service providers, it won't be all smooth sailing. They will need to deal with a number of challenges, such as a dramatic boost in SIM card sales, followed by the corresponding churn one month later. They will also need to ensure they have provisioned sufficient cells and radio base stations to meet the demand of multiple data or voice connections.
So, in the contest between service providers, apps and broadcasters, the race is on to determine who will take home the gold. But regardless of the winner, the ultimate victor will be the future -- and us: the users who will benefit from all the technological developments along the way.
— Uri Gurevitz, Director, Market Insight & Strategy, Amdocs