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This article was published on January 23, 2012

Ofcom to borrow public sector wireless spectrum for the London Olympics

Ofcom to borrow public sector wireless spectrum for the London Olympics
Paul Sawers
Story by

Paul Sawers

Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check h Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check him out on Google+.

The 2012 London Olympics poses far more ‘space’ problems than simply how the city will accommodate such a massive influx of visitors.

UK communications regulator Ofcom has been working since 2006 to ensure that viewers don’t miss any of the sporting action, with demand from wireless technologies used in the running of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games expected to more than double for the duration of the event.

“Careful management of London’s airwaves will be essential for the coverage and organisation of the London 2012 Games,” it said in an announcement today. “The event presents a unique logistical challenge never faced before by the UK, with a need to assign up to 20,000 wireless frequencies to be used for the Games in London, more than double the number usually assigned in a year.”

This increase in demand for wireless spectrum will be fueled by the technologies used by broadcasters, including wireless cameras and microphones, which will deliver close-up action and coverage to an estimated global audience of more than 4 billion viewers.

From cameras mounted on motorbikes to full-on crews across the Olympic sphere, this will cause the UK’s spectrum reserves to creak. “The UK’s airwaves are already among the most intensively used in the world,” said Ofcom’s Chief Operating Officer, Jill Ainscough. “The London 2012 Games will significantly increase demand. Ready and prepared for this challenge, Ofcom recognises that there is no room for complacency. We are working behind the scenes to make this capacity available, to ensure that this demand is met.”

Spectrum within London is already used at its full capacity for many applications that will be used at the Games, and to meet the additional demand, Ofcom has unveiled a plan to secure additional capacity through four main ways:

  • By borrowing spectrum on a short-term basis from public sector bodies, such as the Ministry of Defence
  • Ensuring that civil spectrum is used efficiently by making unused frequencies available.
  • Making use of spectrum freed up by the digital switchover
  • Using spectrum that is available without the need for a licence

The extensive use of walkie-talkies by the organisers, talkback systems for broadcasters, timing and scoring systems and sports commentary systems will form a pivotal part of the Games. It’s thought that well over 25,000 members of the world’s media will be based in the UK capital to cover the Olympics, making London 2012 one of the biggest media events ever. And this will require a lot of spectrum.

Here’s where Ofcom sees the significant rise in demand for wireless spectrum coming from:

  • Increased use of wireless cameras for dramatic and close-up action shots
  • Wireless microphones to capture the sounds of the Games
  • Wireless location, timing and scoring technology to give detailed and immediate information about the event as it happens
  • Wireless communications used by team members, sports officials, organisers and support staff
  • Sports commentaries distributed wirelessly to the venue audience for the benefit of hearing and visually impaired spectators
  • The use of wireless communications by security and emergency staff to keep everyone at the event safe

In preparation for the rise in spectrum demand, Ofcom says it has been running a series of test events throughout 2011 and will continue to do so into 2012. “These have taken place at high profile events such as the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey, the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone and the Sail for Gold event at Weymouth,” says Ofcom. “Ofcom will also be responsible for managing the airwaves during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which will take place between 2-5 June 2012.”

Ofcom says it has built a “state-of-the-art spectrum assignment system” that will manage access to the spectrum, helping to keep it free for those who need it and free of interference.