The best and worst technologies at the Olympics

The flame is extinguished, and as such the games of the 2008 Olympics are closed. While the medal count is now final, a few awards have yet to be given out: those for the winners and losers when it came to technology at the games.
Beijing had three aims for the Olympics, intending to present them as “People’s Olympics,” “Green Olympics” and “High-tech Olympics.” While the first was a clear success and the second a failure, what about the third? That and more as we look at the medal stand for IT at the Beijing Olympics:

Winner: American sports viewers. NBC presented the Olympics — including 2,900 hours of live coverage — in high-definition (HD). With the U.S. economic slump leading to lower prices on HDTVs, the HD Olympics, followed immediately by the NFL season, and preceded — for the truly athletically addicted with a good satellite package — by the Euro 2008 soccer finals, gave armchair sports fans their best reason ever to upgrade to full HD.

Loser: Wireless Beijing. In most races, competitors are disqualified for false starts. This attempt at creating wireless Internet connectivity was a complete failure. First there was no English interface. Then there was an English interface and the log-ins didn’t work.

Then it said something about payment but gave no option for it. And ultimately, its coverage area wasn’t large enough to make a difference for laptop or Wi-Fi-toting Olympic spectators, not in a city that already had plentiful and free Wi-Fi connections, including Starbucks locations. That supply of free bandwidth makes Beijing a winner at anytime, not just during the games.

Winner: Official systems integrator Atos Origin had the goal of being “invisible” at the Olympics, for the simple reason that if they suddenly hit anyone’s radar, then something was wrong. Despite being a top-level Olympic sponsor, Atos never broke the surface, maintaining its stealth status throughout, all the while processing 80 percent more data than at the 2004 Athens games.

Loser: Chinese sports viewers. Americans got high definition, Chinese viewers got high-enthusiasm, but it was standard definition all the way. Although China’s major broadcasters all have HD broadcast capability, consumer uptake of HD sets in China, and available HD broadcasts are minimal.

Blu-ray Disc is similarly absent in home video. There was more Olympic coverage than anyone could possibly watch, but only outside of China did it leap off the screen.
Winner: Lenovo installed 30,000 pieces of hardware throughout Beijing and the other Olympic event cities, which survived during rain and humidity of over 90 percent. Perhaps most impressive, the manufacturer continued trials of its Beacon wireless photo uploading system.

Utilizing 802.11a Wi-Fi and supporting Nikon D2x, D3x, and Canon ED Mark2 cameras, photographers at games venues were able to transmit photos directly to their news bureaus, without having to stop and load those photos from memory to a laptop. Although not yet commercialized, this is definitely a gadget of the future.

Loser: China Mobile and China Netcom were top-level Olympic sponsors who really had nothing to win at the games. China Mobile is already the world’s largest mobile service provider.

That said, they brought nothing new or interesting to the “High-tech Olympics.” Their trial of Chinese-developed 3G (third-generation) telephony standard TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access) was little more than a glorified 2.5G service, and spells trouble for the commercial launch of that service later this year.

China Netcom provided bandwidth and networking for the games. Yep, they sure did. Internet service was no better or no worse at any other time of the year. Their pavilion on the Olympic Green was also the least interesting of any top sponsors, and was little more than a glorified photo exhibition of the development of telecom services in China. It may not matter — as part of its merger with mobile provider China Unicom, the China Netcom name is about to disappear anyway.

Winner: Samsung won hearts and minds at the games with their pavilion, which featured green technology including introducing handsets with cases made from bio-plastics, and gave many users their first taste of 3G service through their distribution of handsets to Olympic executives and reporters.

Their big screen TV and improvised lawn gave spectators one of the few shady spaces that also offered viewing for the games, along with providing athletes with Internet access in their lounge. A parade of Chinese and Korean gold medalists and Korean pop star Rain visiting the pavilion didn’t hurt in attracting visitors.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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