Why There Are Palm Trees at the Sochi Winter Olympics

Photographer: OAO MegaFon
Wireless operator OAO MegaFon camouflaged some of its base stations as palm trees.

As tourists and athletes start to arrive at the Winter Olympics in Russia, they may be surprised by the 46 degree temperature and palm trees situated around the streets. While Sochi's subtropical climate can support palms year-round, not all of the trees are real.

More coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi

Take a closer look. Some of the palm trees around Sochi are actually wireless base stations in disguise. MegaFon, the second-biggest mobile carrier in Russia, camouflaged the equipment as trees and park benches to avoid littering the city with unsightly hardware.

Wireless carriers had to ramp up the infrastructure in Sochi to handle the influx of people watching replays and posting photos to their profiles on Facebook (or VKontakte). MegaFon calls this the "world's first-ever data Olympics." The company spent about $300 million to roll out a modern mobile network, which should enable downloads that are 10 times faster than Russia's average.

Though it would make for an entertaining photo op, Olympic skiers won't be forced to slalom down the sandy beaches of the Black Sea resort. The Sochi Olympics are clustered into two locations. One, in the snow-covered mountains 30 miles away from the city center, will host snowboarding and skiing events. Another — the Olympic Park, which has the main Fisht Stadium and skating rinks — is located on the seashore and has warmer weather similar to the French Riviera.

While it's typical to cover a stadium with one or two base stations, MegaFon installed 30 of them in the 40,000-seat Fisht arena, which will host the opening ceremony today. MegaFon says it will relocate about a third of its equipment once the games are over. Enjoy the palm trees while they last.

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