Space & Innovation

Rio Olympics Has One Thing Going for It

Rio's internet is better than you think.

Three weeks ahead of the Olympic Games and the situation in Rio is looking grim.

There's the Zika virus, the polluted, bacteria-infested waters, delayed construction of a new subway system, the worst economic recession in decades, lack of funds for the police, and the recent impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff followed by questions of corruption in interim president Michel Temer's past.

But one spot glows, albeit dimly, amid all of the doom and gloom: Rio's internet. It should work just fine during the Games, say sources. The question is, How well?

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The question arises from analysis reported earlier this month by Waltham, Mass.-based Dynatrace, a digital performance management software company.

When analysts there looked at hundreds of thousands of requests for web pages coming from inside Rio de Janeiro and San Paulo over a 10-month period, they found a downright crappy user experience.

The time it took for a browser to look up the number for the server providing a specific website trended longer and so did establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. Connection speeds were slow as molasses.

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"Our user experience index was telling us that real users in Brazil were more likely to get a frustrating experience," David Jones, director of sales engineering and APM evangelism for Dynatrace, told DNews.

Using other tools, Dynatrace found intermittent outages that could potentially affect third-party content providers. And when they took a seven-day snapshot of real user traffic from a major hotel chain in Brazil, they found response times were more than eight seconds. More than 60 percent of the visitors bounced off the site.

Foreign visitors and athletes could experience the biggest problems. That's because many of them will be coming to Brazil with smartphone apps made to work on U.S. or European networks built with more modern technology. Many countries are moving away from the internet protocol IPV4, which helps establish a connection between two hosts, to the faster IPV6. That isn't happening as quickly in Brazil.

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What's more, Brazil's international internet backbone connects to everywhere else in the world through the United States. That means a Norwegian cyclist trying to check Aftenposten for the latest news on his home front could experience delays as the data travels up to Miami and then across the Atlantic and back again.

This is all sounds pretty bleak. But hang tight; there's an upside.

In 2004, Brazil began an aggressive campaign to build up the infrastructure that supports its domestic internet traffic, laying down miles of cable and a network of provider-neutral internet exchange points.

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"They were laying fiber optics in the Amazon River," said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis and Hanover, NH-based Dyn.

Dyn found that between 2010 and 2013, the number of internet providers grew by 340 percent and today exceeds the size of all of the South American countries combined.

After the 2014 World Cup Games in Rio de Janeiro, Dyn compared Brazil's internet to South Africa, which hosted the World Cup in 2010. Brazil came out the clear winner.

The World Cup games provided insight into Wi-FI experiences, too.

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"In the stadium environments, people were sending pics and movies, not downloading," said Paul Mikkelsen, CEO of Stockholm-based Aptilo, is providing Wi-Fi at the Olympic stadiums in Rio.

When his company examined Wi-Fi usage during the semi-finals and finals of the World Cup in 2014, they found that at peak usage, 13,000 people were on the network with 40,000 sessions.

"That's fairly big usage," he said.

Good Wi-Fi and an improved domestic internet may not help our Norwegian friend who's trying to access the latest news across the Atlantic in Oslo, though.

"You can have the best Wi-Fi and 4G, but if you can't connect internationally, you cannot connect to any kind of content outside of your country," Mikkelsen said.

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Fortunately, international data doesn't need to travel through that undersea ocean cable to the United States every time.

Lots of content is mirrored on local internet servers.

"That is the core of what we've been doing for the last 18 years," said David Belson, editor of Cambridge, Mass.-based Akamai's quarterly State of the Internet Report, "Making sure that the content is as close to end users as possible." Akamai has the largest content delivery network in the world, with 216,000 servers in 122 countries on all 7 continents.

When our Norwegian friend looks up Aftenposten, chances are the content from the original server in Norway is mirrored on a server near Rio de Janeiro.

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Patrick Adiba, group chief commercial officer and CEO of Olympics & Major Events at French IT firm Atos assured me that Rio's network was ready.

Atos, which has been running the technology backend of the Olympic games since 2003, has been in Rio since 2012 getting things set up. Regarding the internet, Adiba said, "We've had absolutely no issues for four years."

More recently, Atos performed 200,000 hours of testing, a full simulation of the games and also simulated various crisis situations.

"We are happily surprised from a tech standpoint," Adiba said. "Things are going well."