I recently attended a great session by TFL on the expected traffic impact from the 2012 games. The presentation (a copy of which is available here) highlighted some of the myths surrounding the games, and the work that is taking place with businesses to lower the ‘normal’ traffic (including out of hours delivery schemes and encouraging those who can work from home to do so) thereby reducing load on the network.

Those who have events running during the period of the games will already be aware of the impact to logistics and no doubt be planning transport strategies accordingly. NB: The Games are not just London based but involve many venues all over the country from July until September. This blog focuses on some of the tools you can use with your employees whilst off site to keep them working wherever they may be.

Keeping it in the Cloud – Free online applications such as Google Docs and Microsoft 360 have dramatically changed the way companies are storing documents and collaborating. Both services allow documents to be quickly shared with pre-authorised users (within your organisation or otherwise), updated online from multiple device types (smartphones, tablets and laptops) and also include services such as instant messaging and revision tracking. A subscription model is available for those that wish to rely on the service and access advanced features such as video calling. Security needs to be considered so anything highly sensitive should remain stored in the office.

Slow traffic at the Olympics

Could make getting into work a challenge

Keep connected on the move – Employees with mobile devices (e.g. tablets, laptops, etc.) can use them to access content by hopping between Wi-Fi networks or using 3G. One option is ‘Mi-Fi’, small pebble sized dongles that share out a 3G signal through a local Wi-Fi network. These avoid the cost of everyone having their own contract and are great for working on the train or during a site survey. As always 3G comes with the consideration that speeds will vary depending on how many people are using the cellular network in the area… and some rural parts of the country are still waiting for 3G coverage. Because 3G network performance is out of the control of individual companies, 3G or mobile connectivity should not be relied upon for critical services.

Work from the home computer – If employees don’t have laptops why not let them use their own computers? They can connect through remote systems to their email or documents straight from their browser and benefit from a proper chair and monitor. It may even be suitable to give the employee full access to their work desktop, in which case Logmein and Citrix are good places to start.

New ways to meet – One thing that can’t be replaced is face to face interaction with customers, however this is often not viable. So why not start encouraging more online video usage? The industry leader Skype is an excellent product that many already use. A good recommendation is to set up an account just for work purposes so you can logoff at the end of the day.

The key thing is to acknowledge transport and communications systems will be stretched at times and it’s best to put some plans in place now and offer employees flexibility to ensure everyone remains productive.

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 ratio’, 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”) service 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