Olympics network problems point to issues, opportunities as mobile, social use skyrockets

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High volume of tweets contributes to network problems

Mobile users love of tweeting during live events has become a problem for wireless carriers trying to meet network coverage demands as use swells during events such as the Olympic Games. However, the high volume of mobile communications also points to significant opportunities for official sponsors such as Coca-Cola to be seen.

In a sign of the growing use of mobile during live events and the problems wireless networks are having keeping up with the demand the International Olympics Commission reported problems over the weekend with broadcasting certain events thanks to the large number of text messages, tweets and other communications via mobile phones. While high social media traffic is no surprise, the problems reported at the Olympics Games suggest the infrastructure is not keeping up with the growth in demand.

The speed of growth and widespread adoption of social tools likely outpaced the planning and infrastructure needed, said David Hewitt, Atlanta-based global mobile practice lead for SapientNitro.

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Overall, meeting network coverage demands spawned by social media-induced mobile traffic is not special to the Olympics, London, or O2 for that matter, he said. In comparison, the United Statescontinues to have challenges at many of its larger sporting events even the ones sponsored by wireless operators.

Meeting consumer demand for wireless coverage at peak inspiring moments is no trivial task and will continue to be a sore spot with sports fans for quite some time.

Brands benefit
The problems occurred over the weekend, when commentators for the broadcast of the mens road cycling race were unable to get necessary information because of issues with the GPS system communication network. According to reports, the issue is with one of Britains wireless carriers, which did not have dedicated data networks for the sports data being broadcasted and the fan-based social media.

As a result of the problems, the IOC has asked spectators to avoid sending large numbers of text messages, tweets and other communications via mobile and to send communications by other means when possible.

The strong use of mobile social media at the Olympics could be good news for the many brands that have invested heavily in being Olympics Games sponsors and to have related marketing activity. Coca-Cola, British Airways and Adidas are just a few of the brands that are taking advantage of both mobile and social to tap into the excitement around the Olympics.


The official London 2012 Olympics apps.

Brands benefit when theyre mentioned, or seen, said Marc Poirier, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Acquisio, Brossard, Canada.

With the right positioning, an ad posted at the finish line or other placement could show up in, potentially, thousands of images being shared around the world via social media outlets, he said.

In addition to displaying ads to those present and those watching on TV, brands now have an additional opportunity to be seen all over the Internet via social media photo sharing, improving their visibility massively.

Growth will continue
Consumers use of mobile to engage in social media, watch and share videos and otherwise consume content is growing by leaps and bounds. The volume is up significantly since the last Olympics Games and while organizers said they were prepared, the issues this weekend in London point to the need for better mobile support.

A recent Live Nation study found that approximately 40 percent of consumers at concert events share their experience on Facebook while roughly 10 percent of consumers use Twitter to share a live event experience. Seventy-five percent of users take photos and 63 percent text during a live event (see story).

We can probably find a few different entities to blame for this, but what this should really come down to is a lesson in what we can expect from the future, Mr. Poirier said.

Since the last Olympics four years ago there has been explosive growth in the number of individuals using smartphones up 456 percent – and other mobile devices to connect to social media outlets, but the reality is that networks are not built for this kind of constant and consistent load, he said.

The Olympic organizers will have to be better prepared for their own contingencies to ensure their equipment can function properly next time, as theres sure to be even more growth by then.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York

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