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Will mobile sites be ready for Olympics traffic boom?

With the Sochi Olympics approaching, mobile sites and telecommunications providers need to be prepared for an influx of mobile traffic.

Big events such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl continue to bring a spike in wireless traffic, pointing to how important mobile is becoming at live events. At the same time, telecommunications providers in Russia are preparing for an influx in mobile traffic at the games themselves, but it remains to be seen if they are up to the challenge.

?The speed and information delivered to users of mobile and Web applications is critical to marketing success during the Olympics, the Super Bowl and any major sporting or public event,? said Peter Galvin, senior vice president of marketing at SoastaMountain View, CA.

?Adoption of ?second screen? usage during these events is quickly growing while user patience with poor performance is decreasing,? he said. ?That?s why it?s important for companies to have these apps tested frequently and end-to-end to ensure maximum user satisfaction.? 

Mobile Olympics
Soasta is expecting a surge in mobile traffic come Feb. 7 when the Olympics kick off. According to Soasta, 34 percent of Americans will follow the Olympics via smartphones since the games will take place nine hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, charging American mobile marketers to be on their game.

The ?Sochi Olympics Second Screen Survey? show that consumers plan to spend a lot of time on mobile devices during the Olympics. The survey was conducted online in the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of Soasta from Jan. 14-16 among 2,035 adults ages 18 and older.

Soasta expects that nearly one in ten millennial men will use gambling apps during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. It also predicts that 32 percent of Americans will use smartphones and tablets to check event results, and 22 percent will watch highlights via mobile.

An additional 22 percent plan to get scores and results through social media on mobile devices, and 13 percent plan to stream coverage of the games on their smartphone or tablet.

Of the 34 percent of consumers that plan to use apps during the Olympics, 21 percent plan to use social media apps, 15 percent will use news apps and 12 percent expect to access sports apps.

These numbers should come as no surprise as more consumers are using smartphones as a second-screen device for television programs.

?We can only hope that the media companies have conducted comprehensive load testing,? said David Jones, field technical support engineering manager at Compuware APM, Detroit, MI.

?But the more important point is that by making Web access ubiquitous, no time is good for poor mobile web performance.

?People will be accessing content around the clock on their mobile devices, whenever is good for them,? he said. ?Holding up under load for a few hours during a load test is one thing, holding up for a few weeks is another.

?So in addition to load testing, companies really need to be monitoring their mobile site performance around the clock, to proactively detect and resolve any and all issues before mobile end users are impacted.?

Large events like the Olympics are leading to more mobile usage, opening up significant opportunity for marketers.

However, past performance issues at such events have meant a significant lost opportunity for marketers who have invested in building campaigns around these events only to have consumers not able to get online and be able to engage with them.

?The increase in mobile viewing is not a phenomena that is tied to the Olympics - it's for all televised events, be it the Super Bowl, World Cup or the Olympics,? said Martin Morgan, director of marketing at Openet, Reston, VA. ?The opportunity is for mobile marketers to capture the real-time viewing habits of mobile viewers and offer them context aware, real-time adverts.

?With the recent announcement that AT&T is launching sponsored data, perhaps we'll see advertisers offering free data usage for extra exposure to their ads for skiing holidays, or discount snow boots, when one of their customers is watching the Olympics on their 4G tablet,? he said.

While the expected mobile traffic surge presents a lot of opportunity for marketers, it also poses some challenges, especially for wireless carriers and network providers. 

In 2012, wireless carriers had some difficulty meeting network coverage demands during the Olympics, with 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 (see story).

This year, telecommunication managers for the Sochi Olympics seem to be investing in better preparing for the surge in traffic.

According to Openet, MegaFon has increased the capacity of mobile networks in Krasnaya Polyana by 40 percent and in the Olympic Park by 110 percent. It will also be monitoring the quality and loads on the network 24/7.

Additionally, Rostelecom is set to increase network capacity by 15-20 percent through the use of additional bandwidth.

Subscribers of all operators at the Games will be able to leverage MegaFon?s mobile internet, and they can also use roaming and connect to the MegaFon network manually. However, roaming service rates must be checked with operators in advance or they may result in large charges.

Openet suggests that operators be agile and react to networks in real-time, sending notifications about data usage to customers and allowing them to adjust their mobile plans.

?The London Olympics of 2012 were the first mobile Olympics,? Mr. Morgan said. ?Over half of the traffic to the London 2012 Web servers came from mobile devices.

?For the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics, it's fair to say that the majority of Web traffic is going to be mobile,? he said. ?However, mobile data roaming can be expensive and some U.S. and Canadian mobile operators are actively warning their customers about the high cost of data in Russia, so it's a fair bet that a lot of the mobile traffic at the Games will be going over Wi-Fi.

?With an increasing number of sponsors using real-time mobile marketing during the Olympics, it's essential that the networks be ready and built to handle the capacity of visitors and traffic while delivering high speed access. One of the major advantages that Sochi 2014 has over London 2012 is that high speed 4G LTE mobile will be available in Sochi, whereas LTE didn't arrive in London until three months after the games has closed.?

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York