By Mark Keenan, Director of Real Wireless Ltd

It is hard to believe that the 2012 Olympics are over, but so is our successful quest for the epic event’s “in-building wireless” Gold Medal at Wembley Stadium. Like the athletes that graced Wembley and the other Olympic venues, we found that research, planning, practice and the use of the latest technology would be the keys to our Olympic success.   

Since Real Wireless ( began advising on the design of successful in-building wireless networks in the UK back in 2007, we knew that ongoing development and design of the in-building wireless networks in venues like Wembley would have to meet Olympic-sized standards, expectations and challenges in an evolving wireless environment. 

The goals we created and challenges we met were to:

1.       Establish and refine an in-building wireless network that would support the evolving needs of attendee, stadium staff and event officials that would use a mix of mobile wireless devices and their different functions.

2.       Design, simulate and develop an affordable Olympic class in-building wireless network that would help carriers effectively and efficiently deploy costly infrastructure in a rational fashion. 

3.       Monitor the network as needed during the Olympic events to assure its integrity and quality of performance.  

The First Olympics of the Smart Phone Era

From an integrator’s view, Wembley Stadium is an extremely complex venue with its immense seating capacity of 90,000 fans and its 32 sectors in the seating bowl for its 3G in-building network. The pending international flavour of its Olympic audience, an upwardly mobile one, was going to be armed with a mix of smart phones and tablet computers and would pose a unique stress on an unprepared network.  My colleague, Professor Simon Saunders correctly called London 2012 the “The First Olympics of the Smart Phone Era”.  

Our development and design of the network has been a work in progress over the years since the stadium opened in 2007. As we shaped its structure to meet the present day demands of the Olympics, we were confident that its hundreds of thousands of fans would no longer just be making phone calls (like five years ago) or streaming video like they might have been just a few years ago.  No, this in-building network would additionally have to support countless individuals uploading video and picture content to social networking sites to show people that “they were there”- at the world’s greatest sporting event, while simultaneously viewing replay video of the event in progress and of events taking place at other venues. Expectations were high too because many of these diverse mobile device users were coming from overseas 4G environments into the UK’s 3G setting… just another concern among many.

However, the evolution of mobile technology has been closely followed by the evolution of antenna technology. The antennas we have at our disposal today have a much higher gain and are much more directional than the antennas we had three years ago. We are now able to limit the pollution between different sectors by strategically placing antennas in a way that they’ll reach mobile users with a clean straight beam. Finding places to put the antennas is a whole other challenge.

Wembley’s in-building wireless network did have a taste of things to come since it has been successfully hosting Olympic sized and diverse crowds since it opened in 2007. Milestone events included the Champion’s League Final in 2011 with Manchester United vs. Barcelona as well as Wembley’s annual NFL game and numerous rock concerts.  Using the stadium and network during the American football games over the last several years taught us that our networks needed to be able to support the diverse crowds that like to linger (we call it “dwell time”) outside the facility during tailgate parties, an American football tradition. Another great lesson learned from our first American football game was when the teams brought in their own communication systems and headsets for coach to coach conversations. Not only was there a challenge from the added RF pollution, but interestingly enough, their communication headsets were on the same frequency as the UK defense system! We fixed that but were duly prepared for similar challenges and situations at the Olympics.

Successfully Simulating the Network Before and During the Olympics

While having a real event to base network stress and strains on is immensely helpful, we also found peace of mind from a truly essential and comprehensive software suite for designing, building and simulating in-building networks. The software is built by Canada’s iBwave ( and is a complete solution for the brave new world of in-building networks. One of many valuable components we relied on was the software’s ability to simulate the network based on a virtual detailed version of Wembley Stadium. By building and testing a virtual and detailed version of the venue, we could very accurately play “what if” scenarios that enabled us to manage the numerous variables that impacted the network. 

Historically, before software like this, stadiums were overbuilt with RF antennas and other infrastructure components. Operators are now reluctant to build a whole system before seeing the demand. The software allowed us to tell the carriers not only how much hardware they need, but where to put it for the greatest effect… saving them time and money. The software also helps manage crowd flow and institute better handoffs with greater flexibility. We could even play the “what if” scenarios about the number of smart phone and tablet users based on past projections.

When all was said and done, we can all look back with satisfaction and safely say we went for the gold. A good perspective on the Olympic in-building networks came from a British Telecom spokesperson, who said: “Thank God we built the network that we did.” We agree!  

About Mark Keenan (Author)

Director – Commercial
CEng MIStructE

Mark is a Chartered Structural Engineer and has worked in the wireless telecommunications industry since 1992. He is the co-founder of Real Wireless Ltd ( Mark specializes in managing complex projects, with experience in specification, design, installation and management of major wireless systems in environments as diverse as Heathrow Airport, Wembley Stadium, Ascot Racecourse and numerous corporate offices throughout the UK and The Netherlands. The wireless systems he has deployed are a combination of Wi-Fi, Private Mobile Radio, Tetra and Cellular with infrastructures specified and designed to offer maximum flexibility to customers and environments. Mark was Project Director for a major strategic consulting exercise for BAA, creating and delivering their complete wireless strategy.  He has recently worked with Ofcom, The Football Association, The English Cricket Board and The European Commission on various wireless consultancy engagements.


September 04, 2012