How the Olympics effected a technology boost

A Great British Olympics: how investment in communications infrastructure will drive business growth and innovation beyond London 2012.

by Stuart Orr
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

What a past few weeks it’s been for Britain. The Olympics was a resounding success both on and off the track as Team GB secured their highest medal tally for over a century, with the world getting behind what the IOC themselves called 'a blueprint for future Games'.  As a host city, London astonished the world with some state of the art stadia and amazing volunteers that approached the Games with enthusiasm and optimism. 

One of the big British successes from London 2012 that has perhaps not received quite so much attention is the significant investment that has been made in upgrading communications networks to support the delivery of the Games. At the start of the month, BT announced that it had met its goal to have 500,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the capital in time for the Games, delivering a long-term benefit for residents and business in London that will long outlast the Olympics. Thanks to Virgin Media, consumers also now have access to Wi-Fi on the Underground. Then there’s the huge increase in the speed of fibre broadband roll-out and the strengthening of network capability in areas like East London, which can now use that for growth and inward investment. In advance of next year’s 4G spectrum auctions, we’ve seen some great foundations laid for UK PLC connectivity and business growth. Would all this have happened without the Games? Perhaps, but certainly not as quickly. 

In addition, we saw further innovations as part of the Games themselves, such as Visa’s major push around contactless payments and its trial with Samsung's Galaxy S3 smartphone to test out near-field communications for mobile payments with athletes. The last few weeks ended up being a major accelerator of technology and telecoms innovation across the board.

One thing I’d love to see more of in a post-London 2012 Britain is better use of such mobile technology and connectivity, providing people with greater access to information through the use of QR codes. Around the Olympic venues for example, the experience could have been massively more educational. Or maybe we could have had a more intuitive online experience that integrates mobile and the web together to give fans at home and in the venues alike the chance to engage even deeper with the Games as they’re happening. I have one colleague who commented that he would have bought Andy Murray’s Team GB tennis jersey after his success, had he been able to use his smartphone to scan and locate the kit directly from his TV.

People have begun to talk excitedly about what we can expect from Rio 2016. As one of the world’s fastest growing economies we’re seeing some of the most exciting communications innovations coming out of Brazil, and our recent research ranked the country as one of the highest users of mobile internet in the world. I fully expect mobile to be the biggest driver for change in the way people engage with the Games in Rio be they watching it at home on their TV, visiting the actual venues or trying to catch-up on the medals table as they make their way into work. 

And for businesses looking to capitalise on the opportunity presented by the Games being in South America for the first time? Well, now’s the time to get planning, and to start thinking about how we can get ensure a similar communications infrastructure legacy in that region in 2016.  

Stuart Orr is managing director, communications industry in Europe, Africa and Latin America (EALA) for Accenture

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