China's IT Olympic Lineup

A mix of new wireless technologies, homegrown and foreign, will play a critical role in assuring a successful Beijing Games

With less than 12 months to go, China is set to launch on a world stage its first-ever Olympic Games in Beijing, showing its modern face and economic power to the world. To assure a successful event, the Chinese government is pouring billions of dollars into major infrastructure build-outs, including an expanded subway, modern stadiums, new roads and a seamless, reliable telecommunications infrastructure. A mix of new wireless technologies, homegrown and foreign, are set to play a critical role in assuring a successful Beijing Olympics, which will begin in August, 2008.

Compared to previous Olympics, the 2008 event will involve the widest adoption of broadband and mobility services in history, says Zhao Jidong, senior VP at China Netcom, the official fixed-line communication service provider for the Beijing Olympics (and the 2008 Summer Paralympics). That promises to shine a sharp global spotlight on cutting-edge broadband and wireless technologies, and up the pressure on vendors and service providers to make sure the telecom players in the event perform as flawlessly as the athletes.

BROADBAND OLYMPICSIt will prove a challenging task to meet the varied communication needs of more than 25,000 media representatives and millions of visitors, athletes and staff members during the 18-day event, says Zhao. Indeed the telecom infrastructure of the Beijing Olympics is expected to be the most complex and largest ever.

According to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games will involve 37 venues, of which 31 are in Beijing. Events will also be held in six cities outside of Beijing. Hong Kong will host the equestrian events, while sailing, beach volleyball and some swimming competitions will be held in Qingdao, Shandong province. Preliminary soccer matches are being scheduled in Shanghai, Tianjin and Qinghuangdao in Hebei province, as well as in Shenyang, Liaoning province.

Covering so many scattered venues requires a comprehensive and flexible telecom infrastructure, as well as the deployment of both fixed and wireless technologies, industry watchers say. To meet the challenge, Zhao says China Netcom has invested millions of dollars in upgrading and expanding its optical network, transmission network, switch network and data network over the last few years.

By the middle of this year, China Netcom had connected its optical network to IT systems, a TV broadcasting system and security systems in all the venues. A unique ASON-MSTP based intelligent transmission platform is also being built to support the provisioning of high-quality and stable video streaming over leased-line services via satellite, cable and submarine cable networks, he adds.

The company has also set up a dedicated "VIP" network to provide high-speed Internet connections for media, hotel and organizers, as well as a new service which will allow visitors in media centers and all Olympic venues to access the Internet with an IC card without needing to input passwords.

"It is the first time in Olympics history that we will see the integration of the IC card with Internet access and have it applied to broadband access," Zhao says. "For us, the Beijing Olympics will be a true broadband event - no matter mobile or fixed - which allows end-users to get information about the Olympics, anywhere, anytime, and via any device."

Other telecom services that will take center stage include IPV6-based monitoring, leased line, narrow- and broadband Internet access and VPN for new agencies. Another key highlight is going to be high-definition TV, Zhao says, adding that around 70-80% of the live Olympic event coverage will be broadcast in high-definition.

The company has partnered with operators in Japan and South Korea such as KT in conducting three trials of the HDTV service.

TELECOM TEST-BEDHDTV aside, the Beijing Olympics will also be a test-bed for new wireless technologies, including home-grown TD-SCDMA and WiMAX, both of which will be deployed for the first time in China.

When Beijing won the bid to host the Olympics, the Chinese government promised a "high-tech Olympics"

to highlight new technologies such as 3G during the Games. Although it's uncertain whether China will issue the 3G licenses before the event, industry players say TD-SCDMA will definitely take center stage.

"TD-SCDMA will play a critical role during the Olympics, and the networks will absolutely be up and running before the Olympics," says Hu Jian, deputy director of TD-SCDMA at ZTE.

Earlier this year China extended pre-commercial testing of the home-grown 3G standard to 10 cities from the original three, in its latest move to push TD-SCDMA into commercial use. While China Telecom and China Netcom are to expand their respective TD-CDMA networks in Baoding and Qingdao, China Mobile will set up new networks in six other cities: Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Shengyang, Qinghuangdao, and expand the existing one in Xiamen.

Hu adds that ZTE has been selected by China Mobile as the sole network supplier for the TD-CDMA network in Beijing, as well as one of the suppliers for the networks in Tianjin, Shengyang, Shenzhen, Xiamen and Qinghuangdao.

The networks promise to be quite sophisticated. The Beijing network, for instance, will consist of more than 3,000 base stations. China Mobile will begin testing applications and services such as video calls, video streaming and mobile TV after the network's scheduled completion in October, and begin its tender for the handsets in the same month, he added.

Zhou Yi, China Mobile's general manager for Olympics affairs, confirmed at the Broadband World Forum Asia in June that the mobile giant, the official mobile communication services provider for the Beijing Olympics, will set up TD-SDMA networks in eight cities and introduce HSPA next year as part of its strategy to provide high-speed wireless connectivity during the 2008 Olympics.

"The mobile handset may have a smaller impact on the Olympics than traditional broadcast TV, given its short history. However, mobile broadband will be playing a significant role during the Olympics," he said.

During the event, he added, China Mobile will introduce a range of mobile applications including mobile multimedia blogging targeting journalists, and mobile video conferencing and mobile video monitoring services to address different needs from the organizers, visitors and event audiences.

The company will also roll out service that allows visitors to buy tickets for Olympic events and watch live video coverage on their 3G phones, as well as access information about local restaurants, shopping and sightseeing. Athletes and staff will also use 3G to access information related to the games, he added.

While the Chinese 3G technology on its own is not likely to be enough to support the mobility needs of the international community present, China Mobile is also looking into WiMAX and Wi-Fi to supplement its mobile broadband offerings.

The mobile giant had announced earlier that it will deploy both technologies in and around Beijing for the Olympic games, after receiving the go-ahead from the BOCOG.

In June China Mobile contracted with GrenTech to provide Wi-Fi equipment for its Olympic wireless local area network (WLAN), which will cover different types of protocols including IEEE802.11a, b and g. GrenTech will also help design and construct the Olympic WLAN, which will be used to provide high-speed wireless Internet access for users. It will cover the Olympic gymnasiums, stadiums and surrounding areas in six Olympic cities, including Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, according to GrenTech.

Meanwhile, China Netcom is also reportedly conducting trials on WiMAX, as well as a home-grown broadband wireless technology, called McWiLL, or Multicarrier Wireless Internet Local Loop. Developed by Beijing Xinwei Telecom Technology, a unit of Datang Group, a key supporter for TD-SCDMA, McWiLL is based on SCDMA technology in the 400MHz band. Netcom will use McWiLL in the costal city of Qingdao during Olympic sailing events for video, voice and data communication.

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