The Olympics: Where Even The Wi-Fi Isn't Free
By Mike Masnick, Wed Aug 18 01:00:00 GMT 2004

The Olympic Games are supposed to be a celebration of "the noble competition in sport." Instead, it's turned into a corporate sponsor-thon, where even free Wi-Fi has no place.


It's no secret that the Olympics have gone corporate. With regulations preventing even attendees from wearing clothing or carrying food that displays the logos of non-sponsors and radio stations being told they need to stop their regular online streaming because they only paid for the radio, and not internet, broadcast rights of the game, it's no wonder that many are wondering if the spirit of the games has been lost in the mad dash for corporate cash. Even the official website claims you can't link to it without getting official permission first.

The wireless companies at the Olympics seem to be following the same basic consumer unfriendly gameplan. NTT DoCoMo heavily promoted its plans to set up a temporary version of its FOMA network so traveling Japanese could still use mobile phones as if they were in Japan. Today, however, they denied those plans and said the network wasn't for FOMA customers after all, but just a "demonstration." FOMA customers are now back to hunting down a mobile phone they can rent instead. Maybe they can get one of those new Olympic spirit gold-plated Samsung phones to match with the games.

The biggest opportunity, though, would have been to use the Olympics to highlight the power of Wi-Fi. However, instead of showing just how powerful Wi-Fi can be both as a communications tool for attendees and as a logistics tool for organizers, all the stories focus on Wi-Fi roaming agreements in Athens to let the few people who have accounts with Wi-Fi aggregators to keep using them while at the Olympics. That may be wonderful for the few customers who actually have a Wi-Fi account, but leaves most consumers out in the dark -- squandering a great promotional opportunity

Meanwhile the stands at the Olympics are empty, as millions of seats go unsold. Clearly, corporate sponsorship has become more important than filling the seats, though that should come back to bite the Olympics next time around when sponsors are much less interested. If people aren't watching, there's not much to sponsor. This would have been the perfect opportunity to promote innovative uses of wireless technologies, encouraging visitors to make use of wireless connectivity by Wi-Fi or cellular to engage with their friends and families to show them what attending the Olympics is all about. Letting visitors in the stands snap camera phone photos and post them blogs, or to post real-time updates via Wi-Fi would have brought the Olympics back to everyone, and made it much easier to connect with what was actually happening. Instead, the message is, if you want your wireless connection at the Olympics, don't forget your Visa card.