Away from the pitch, a quiet revolution has taken place in Poland and Ukraine. Huge investment from telecoms providers has ensured this is the most connected European Championships ever.
In Poland, the National Stadium in Warsaw (pictured) is an awe-inspiring sight. Towering like a red wicker basket over the city’s Saska Kepa neighbourhood, it hosted the opening ceremony and first game of Euro 2012, jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine. In emerging countries, the stadium holding major sporting events is often viewed as a symbol of modernity.
But beneath the 58,000 capacity stadium lies a greater, if less immediately obvious sign of the country’s development – the upgrading of its technology infrastructure.
One of the biggest challenges facing Poland and Ukraine in hosting the Euros was creating faster internet connectivity and mobile communications. From fans needing to stay in touch, journalists and broadcasters demanding smooth working conditions to local residents simply wanting to watch the games on their smartphones, both countries’ technology infrastructure needed overhauling to meet these high standards.
Sponsorship came from Telekomunikacja Polska (TP) and Orange, which is partnering with UEFA for the event. Orange has clearly put much stock in the tournament, both in terms of branding but also on the infrastructure side. ‘Sponsorship has changed,’ says John Constantino, head of global sponsorship and partnership at Orange in Warsaw. ‘Companies can’t simply stick a logo on something anymore.’
Working with TP as its local partner, Orange has implemented a solution based on the new generation ROADM transmission network. In theory, this should ensure the highest quality and reliability of audio and video signal transmission. The network is providing two independent transmission routes to each Polish stadium, the broadcasting centre and the border with Ukraine. It will provide the backbone for all the television broadcasts from all of the matches in the tournament.
There has been a softer side to providers’ involvement in this summer’s tournament, with an official UEFA app made available for smartphones (pictured, right). This is a big step for UEFA, which has never embraced social media in previous tournaments – though this is partly down to the nascent technology in the last Euros four years ago. With over 750,000 downloads before the tournament had begun, the app has clearly been a success. Perhaps the most impressive aspect for fans at the tournament is the augmented reality feature, which superimposes maps and directions over the image shown on a mobile device.
Supporters in the huge fanzone at Warsaw’s Palace of Culture were using the UEFA app, with connectivity not an issue. ‘I haven’t noticed speeds getting faster [in the city] but I always seem to have a connection now,’ said one Polish fan.
Other providers have got in on the Euro 2012 act with dedicated tariffs. T-Mobile Poland, for example, has introduced the ‘Europakiet’ for prepaid users. During the tournament, the package includes 30 minutes for international calls and roaming (within the EU), exchangeable for SMS or MMS, 150 minutes for national calls to T-Mobile and fixed lines and 100MB of data.
Sony appears to have triumphed in the handset stakes. The company’s Xperia range will have exposure to Orange customers, and fans can win the Xperia S, Xperia P and Xperia U smartphones in online competitions.
Pieter Pierle, VP and director of the global Orange account at Sony Mobile Communications, said before the start of the tournament: ‘The Euros are going to be a major event this summer. This partnership with Orange gives us an opportunity to introduce our Xperia smartphones to Orange’s customers, extending our reach to even more consumers.’
And despite Orange’s technological partnership with UEFA, local mobile network carriers have also developed the infrastructure around the stadiums in Poznan, Gdansk and Warsaw.
Its success was evident during the opening ceremony in Warsaw on 8 June. Fans in and around the stadium were glued to iPads, smartphones and BlackBerrys. The investment in Wi-Fi has been a hit too, though clearly the usual tournament gripes remain. Jonathan Wilson, an author and journalist for The Guardian, tweeted during the opening match: ‘Warsaw: city of excellent Wi-Fi and surprisingly bad taxi drivers.’
Euro 2012 factbox
The technology partnership between and Telekomunikacja Polska (TP) and Orange will deliver:
• More than 6,000 internet and corporate networks access points
• Approx 1,000 IP phones
• Approx 1,300 ISDN lines
• Almost 600 analogue phone lines
• Approx 1,600 Sim cards and mobile phones
• Approx 100 wireless access modems
• Approx 300 wireless access points
• More than 1,000 laptops
• Around 1,000 Sharp TV sets
• Around 1,300 commentators’ monitors (supplied by Sharp)
• Approx 800 phones (ISDN and analogue)
• Approx 130 LCD monitors
• Smaller devices (photo cameras, USB sticks, laminators, etc.)
• Video signal transmission
• Transmission between Ukraine border and International Broadcasting Centre (IBC)
• Connectivity between Polish stadiums and IBC