VoIP & Broadband: Another Olympic Spectacle

Most people interested in the London Olympics are tuning in to their favorite sports. A few are focusing on various political issues surrounding the games.

Then there are the self-admitted Nerds like me. I’m puzzling over the seemingly contradictory signals coming out of London about the use of wireless broadband connectivity, and thus broadband applications such as VoIP, in and around the games.

It seems that the use of personal wireless access points has been outlawed at Olympic venues. In other words, the emerging genre of devices that use 3G/4G cellular signals as a form of backhaul for a user’s broadband-based devices, from laptops to ATAs, are verboten. In other words, no virtual phone line from your seat in the stadium, although we wonder how they detect someone who smuggles in an ATA to use in their private suite or box.

That news emerged over the past week when Olympic authorities published a list of prohibited items that can’t be brought into any Olympic venue. There, along with the expected items such as guns, knives, explosives, illegal drugs, and so on is a ban on “Personal/private wireless access points and 3G hubs.” The Olympics powers-that-be add that “smart devices such as Android phones, iPhone and tablets are permitted inside venues, but must not be used as wireless access points to connect multiple devices.”

Just why the ban has been imposed is not stated. As I write this, various queries to Olympic authorities as to why the ban was imposed have gone unanswered. One theory is that there’s a fear that local networks will become overloaded if too many try to use the available bandwidth.

But then there’s another theory. It seems that British telecom giant BT has a contract under which it has installed 1,550 access points at various Olympic venues. Use of those access points for BT subscribers, or customers of companies with roaming agreements with BT, will be free. But most international visitors will have to pay.

Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, just outside the stadiums in London’s fashionable West End there’s a brand new free Wi-Fi service. The Westminster City Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea hired BT rival network provider O2 to run the system which will “allow many people to browse the web, check their email and use VoIP solutions throughout the Olympic Games,” according to publicity for the free service. “”The addition of free Wi-Fi to some of our most popular landmarks is crucial in helping to maintain (London’s) reputation” said Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

So … let the (VoIP) games begin.