Orange going for gold at Paris Olympics

French operator faces huge task to connect Paris Olympics, with a 1,000 person operation kicking into gear as the Games near opening day.

“In France, we don’t use Wi-Fi, we use mobile networks.”

These are the words of Bertrand Rojat, the man who is tasked with ensuring that all the official communications at this year’s Olympics run smoothly. And when we say all of it, we mean all of it. Unlike previous Olympics such as Tokyo 2021, where five CSPs were involved, Orange is the sole communications provider for the Paris Games: that includes providing connectivity to broadcasters, media, staff and officials, volunteers, on-site retailers, not to mention spectators and attendees.

To do this, it must provide network and capacity across 32 sports and 120 official sites. 13.5 million ticket holders will enter 878 sporting events at the venues across the Games, with 14,900 Olympic and 4,500 Paralympic competitors, 45,000 volunteers and 20,000 accredited journalists to cater for. On the end of all that, the Olympics Broadcast Service will produce 11,000 hours of live TV, with all images sent back to the broadcast centre via the network.

The responsibility lies on Alexis Berger, Project Lead for Paris 2024 at Orange, and the aforementioned Rojat, who is Chief Technology and Information Officer at Orange Events.

“If you’re a fan, at home, a referee, organiser, journalist, you cannot live your passion and do your job without Orange. A referee cannot start a game if Orange is not ready. All of this is through our network,” Berger says.

As examples, he gives the photographer who wants to upload a high definition image to have it live on his picture agency site in 30 seconds, beating the amateur journalists in the stands. Or take the in-stadium vendors who need their remote payments terminals to work. Or how about the live broadcast production team, taking in pictures from Tahiti fewer than 100 ms after a surfer catches a wave.

orange olympic event

How the beach volleyball might look in front of the Eiffel Tour – showing the projected range of connectivity requirements.

The network

Underpinning Orange’s effort it has deployed a 100 Gbps, redundant, IP network which acts as the core for all of the traffic at and between all the Olympic sites, the International Broadcasting Centre and the Technical Operations Centre. This network, which allows technicians to remotely configure sites on-demand, consists of tens of logical networks and has about 100,000 “internet plugs” connecting journalists, cash machines, control for ticketing and all the usual on-site paraphernalia of a large event.

In addition to the core, 60 site IP network is a boosted macro mobile network. Orange is rolling out 50 temporary cell sites (usually generator sets and antennas on trucks) across 32 sporting locations. It is also upgrading its mobile capacity at key permanent locations, such as Stade de France, and says it is deploying a “dynamic mechanism” to optimise spectrum. And it’s here that the “we don’t do Wi-Fi” line crops up. Orange is expecting to be able to meet the demands of tens of thousands of attendees with cellular coverage.

“One thing that’s very important. In France, we don’t use Wi-Fi, we use mobile networks. If we go to a stadium and use the mobile, Wi-Fi is not the natural choice. So the Wi-Fi in the venues that we are deploying is for media, for the organising committee, for all the technical staff.

“For the public, this is why we have enhanced all our mobile coverage, to enable mobile connectivity to all spectators including in big stadiums, all using our mobile network.”

A new push for Push-to-talk

As well as carrying spectator load, the public macro network is also going to carry Push-To-Talk voice traffic for 13,000 staff, stewards and volunteers. Orange said these will be connected with prioritised service over the public network using a “special mechanism” that Rojat describes as a precursor to network slicing. This is the first time at an Olympics that staff and security voice traffic has been taken off a dedicated private radio system, such as TETRA.

Private Networks:

However, there are some occasions where Orange has decided what it needs is a dedicated mobile network, rather than carving out QoS classes in its macro network. At the opening ceremony along a 6km stretch of the Seine, for the sailing in Marseilles, and at the Athletics at Stade de France, broadcasters and officials will be connected to a standalone private network running in dedicated spectrum.

During the opening ceremony, the filming from boats on the Seine will be done not by large cameras but by smartphones, with “camera” operators attaching to the standalone, 5G private network.

At the sailing event, on-boat cameras and competitors’ helmet cams will relay action live to the broadcast centre, via another private 5G network.

To deal with the large amount of traffic streaming up from these devices, the private network has been configured to have 80% of its throughput on the uplink.

Putting this all together has been a huge operation. It won’t say how much it has invested in the whole project, but Orange has a dedicated team of 1,000 staff that it began recruiting internally two years ago, from across its different countries of operation. It says it has tested and tested, and is ready to go. Let the Games begin.

 

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