Connected Devices Become Olympic Tech


Tomorrow, the best athletes in the world will begin competing for the ultimate honor: an Olympic gold medal. But all eyes will not only be on the athletes; the world will also be watching the host city, London. How will the city stack up when it comes to harnessing M2M (machine-to-machine) technology and connected devices in the 2012 Olympic Games? Will 2012 be the most connected Games ever?

It very well could be the most connected, considering this will be the first Summer Games since the launch of Apple’s iPad in January 2010. Since the iPad’s release later that year, the number of connected devices in the hands of consumers has skyrocketed. However, earlier this week, news became widespread that the Olympic committee has officially banned “personal/private wireless access points and 3G hubs.”

While the committee specifies smartphones and tablets are permissible inside Olympic venues, it is also clear these devices must not be used as wireless access points or Wi-Fi hotspots, making it officially against the rules to use one device to connect other devices. Add this restriction to a list already containing objects such as firearms, pepper spray, walkie-talkies, and laser pointers.

By disallowing Wi-Fi hotspots, guests will be at the mercy of the public network, which is likely to be quite crowded during such a big event. The rule will prevent fans or members of the media from creating their own network to hop on and upload, download, tweet, etc.—at least in theory. It is not clear how the rule will be enforced.

In other ways, social networking and other data services are both supported and encouraged by the Games. For instance, there is a suite of official London 2012 mobile apps, including. The Official London 2012 Join In app, a free download for Android, BlackBerry, and iOS platforms. The location-based app serves as a mobile guide to help guests plan and share their Olympics experience.

The application allows guests to search for events near their current location, share location on a map viewable by friends, and even track the realtime position of the Olympic Torch via the “Torch Tracker” function.

Thanks to the increased adoption of devices and social-networking services, including Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, the data traffic created by guests of the 2012 Olympics will likely exceed the amount reached during previous Games.

How else might the London 2012 event be connected? Contactless payments via NFC (near-field communication), for one. In fact, Visa,, says there will be more than 140,000 contactless terminals around the U.K., practically surrounding visitors with opportunities to engage in contactless payments using Visa payWave, the company’s mobile-payment application.

More than 25% of mobile-phone users in the U.S. and Western European will pay via NFC by 2017, according to a report from Juniper Research, However, a lot needs to happen before then. With Olympians sponsored by Visa and Samsung Electronics,, walking around with limited-edition Samsung GALAXY S III devices equipped with payWave, perhaps the partnership will help drive the idea forward. By making the technology more accessible and by making the value add clearer, perhaps Visa has found a way to put NFC on prominent display for a worldwide audience.

So, will this exposure help prod global NFC adoption after the closing ceremonies? How will network providers in the U.K. handle the surge of data traffic? Will the hotspot ban become the norm for future Olympic Games?

Technology and connected devices may not be the main event during London’s 2012 Olympic Games, but they will be more of a factor than ever before.

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