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Integrated tube tickets not on the Olympic menu

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With two and a half years to go, the Olympic Committee has started locking down the technology for the 2012 games, with Oyster-enabled tickets the first to go as the £500m budget gets allocated.

Technology For The Olympic Games (pdf) explains that the London games, July-September 2012, will use more than one hundred thousand telephones, 80,000 internet points and 1,000 Wi-Fi sites. But tickets won't feature integrated Oyster cards, and neither will Londoners get mobile-phone coverage on the underground. On the plus side, the organisers aren't going to try to police copyright during the event.

Visitors to the games will be entitled to free public transport in London. That was promised as part of the bid, so it was thought that integrating an Oyster card (London's electronic ticketing system) into tickets for the games would be a sensible way of achieving that. Now it has been decided that it's just too expensive and alternatives are being sought.

Near Field Communications (the technology on which Oyster is based) will find a place in the games, embedded in the Visa cards that will be the only electronic currency allowed thanks to Visa's sponsorship. Cash will be acceptable, but the likes of Mastercard and American Express need not apply. It's scratch-window cash or Visa card only, though you'll be able to buy a pre-paid version of the latter on the day.

What you won't be able to do is make a phone call on the tube. This was never very likely, despite being optimistically suggested in the Digital Britain report, but the latest document explicitly rules it out. London's tube lines are too deep, too snug and too crowded to get mobiles working.

Better news is that organisers aren't going to spend a fortune trying to stop spectators taking snaps of the games. "By 2012, spectators will routinely be able to share footage of the Games online," the committee claims. But despite this being illegal, the committee is "looking at ways to exploit this situation... such as encouraging spectators to share their photos and videos via official social networking websites", which is strangely sensible.

With equal sense the committee is planning to lock down all the technology to be used at the games by September 2010, on the basis that the games is no place to field test the very latest gear.

Nor is the committee worried about terrorists taking over its computers. IT security is more focused on attempts to change scores or gain access to customer records, not to mention telling everyone that the London Games is not running a lottery. It doesn't want anyone to send off a "confirmation fee", despite at least 30 scams already claiming the opposite - although that's nothing to the $1.5bn which was apparently paid by Europeans for fake tickets to the Beijing Games.

Given that Londoners won't be getting underground mobile coverage, one might wonder what the IT legacy of the 2012 games will be? Beyond the usual increase in skills and extended broadband for East London, the only example cited is the CCTV system with automatic number-plate recognition that goes to Transport for London after the games. That's surely worth £500m on its own. ®

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