Beijing prepares for high-tech Olympics

Beijing prepares for high-tech Olympics

IT planning for the Games began in 2003, with 40 to 50 per cent of systems planning carried over from the last Olympics and adapted to local conditions.

All over Beijing, Olympic countdown clocks tick off the seconds until Aug. 8, 2008, at 8:00 p.m., when the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games begin. But for China, the most important competition began in 2000, when Beijing was awarded the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games. Like firing a starter's pistol, the award began the race to build the IT infrastructure to stage and support one of the world's largest sporting events. Producing a "high-tech Olympics" was one of the Beijing Organizing Committee's (BOCOG) objectives. With a published operating budget of $2 billion, BOCOG estimates the technology portion of the budget at more than US$400 million.

Preparing for the Olympics is like no other feat of project management. Leading the charge is Jeremy Hore, chief integrator of the 2008 Olympics. Hore spent six months with his company, Atos Origin, working on the Athens Games, and another six weeks on the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. "The most difficult thing is that the deadline is fixed," he says. "On other projects, you can delay if you need to, even if it has a bad impact." There are also limitations on which vendors' equipment and services may be used. "You don't have much control over choices because of sponsorships and partnerships," says Hore.

IT planning for the Games began in 2003. Forty percent to 50 percent of systems planning is carried over from the last Olympics and adapted to local conditions. In 2004, Hore and his team began designing the fully redundant systems, determining their requirements and testing needs. The following year they concentrated on building the systems and testing facilities to fit in the two years of trials required by the Olympics committees. Just as athletes train for years for the Games, IT people hold 200,000 hours of trials in total. Atos dedicated about 100 people to conduct tests. Some systems, such as those for managing accommodations for athletes and Games personnel, had to be operational three years in advance.

One new technology getting a limited run-out during the Olympics is IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6). It does a better job of supporting applications like videoconferencing and high-definition television than its predecessor, IPv4, and offers opportunities for lower-cost construction of security networks and monitoring devices. IPv6 may help security forces watch the millions of spectators, but it is doubtful it will help spectators watch the Games. Fang Meiqin, senior consultant at technology consultancy and research firm BDA, says, "I don't think the ordinary consumer will notice [IPv6 is in use]. It's mainly for the organizers' and government usage."

So in terms of technology advances enjoyed by visitors, the Beijing Olympics may fall short. Case in point: China is offering 3G services but only for BOCOG affiliates who received one of 15,000 handsets provided by Games sponsor Samsung. Customers from other nations, such as Japan, Korea and the U.K., will not be able to use their 3G phones in Beijing.

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