Networking & Communications

Is Brazil tech-ready for the 2016 Olympics?

The 2016 Olympics is creeping up on Brazil. Rio de Janeiro will host the games between August 5 and 21, all while the economy is in a harsh downturn, President Dilma Rouseff faces protests calling for her resignation with millions taking to the streets, and the Guanabara Bay, a central part of many of the games’ water sports, has been criticised globally as unacceptably polluted.

Despite its slew of economic and social challenges, Brazil is making strident efforts to modernise is technology backbone.

It is carrying out a digitising of its cities and remote regions, from Sao Paolo to the wilds of the rainforest, with broadband connectivity. But how are these moves and initiatives interacting with the Olympics and the massive crowds that will descend on Rio this August?

Communication networks

The Brazilian Olympic Committee (BOC) has partnered with Cisco to improve sports team management and upgrade Rio’s networks.

Cisco will be powering the communication links between the BOC and other Olympic committees. It will also be handling huge swathes of data by gathering information from each pitch, court, and track as well as running internet connectivity for all of the athletes and staff.

Furthermore Cisco is using the games as a “catalyst” to further embed itself in Rio de Janeiro, almost literally. It will be responsible for the post-Olympics scheme to develop the city’s Urban Innovation Initiative in Porto Maravilha, which will see smart city solutions and urban Wi-Fi networks deployed across the port.

Elsewhere during Rio 2016, British firm Sepura will be providing communications infrastructure for four stadiums and two airports as well as bolstering state police networks in a €10 million deal.

Travel and accommodation

The Zika virus has been a cause of great concern for Brazil, especially for pregnant women, who have been advised not to travel to the country. Olympic officials were even forced to fumigate venues in January to stay one step ahead of the virus.

Despite these concerns, thousands are still expected to arrive in Rio de Janeiro in August. To ensure a smooth entry process, the Brazilian government has waved visa restrictions for the games, meaning fewer hurdles for getting into the country and potentially more visitors than initially expected.

CISCEA, the body that oversees air traffic control, has enlisted SITA, the Swiss IT giant that specialises in the aerospace industry, to revamp its air traffic control systems, from operations data for pilots to communications links between the country’s airports. Brazil already has the busiest air spaces and airports in South America so with increased visitors this year, the upgrade is desperately needed.

As far as accommodation is concerned, hotels will obviously be bustling but the mega event will be a test for tech-driven alternatives like Airbnb. Brazil has decided against taking any chances and has moved against short term rentals like Airbnb by introducing new taxes. This comes despite the fact that the Olympic committee has signed an agreement with Airbnb to provide rooms for fans.

Anti-doping scandals

The world of athletics has been rocked for years by allegations of doping by its athletes. The Sunday Times’ recent investigation showed how deep the scandal goes with Russia’s athletics commission being banned from competitions.

As a result, Olympic committees and host cities have felt pressure brewing to clamp down harder on doping.

Rio is home to one of the few World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) testing labs in Latin America. WADA has been implementing new forensics technologies for years to improve the detection of banned and controlled substances but Brazil’s lab only narrowly made the cut this year by complying with WADA’s regulations for its lab ahead of the March 18 deadline.

Cyber threats

Another huge issue is potential cyber-attacks against the Olympics networks that could disrupt communications and information flow. We’ve seen how Japan is preparing for this in 2020 and Brazil is bracing itself for similar events.

Hackers attempted to attack the country in 2014 ahead of the World Cup and the nebulous hacktivist group Anonymous carried out its #OpWorldCup campaign to protest against social injustice in Brazil during the tournament. Similar attacks are feared again that may disturb financial and other networks during the games so the military will be hoping to combat any threats more rigorously this time.

The Center for Cybernetic Defense has gained much experience in protecting Brazil’s networks after the 2014 World Cup and 2013 Confederations Cup but will face a new challenge in August making sure all its networks run without a hitch.


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Jonathan Keane

Jonathan Keane is a freelance journalist, living in Ireland, covering business and technology

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