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Olympics shuns mobile technology

Organizers say equipment based on the 802.11 standard won't be used to run operations of any Games until at least 2008. They say landlines are a "safer" bet.

The International Olympic Committee said Monday that equipment based on wireless-networking staple 802.11 won't be used to run operations of any Games until at least 2008 because of security and performance concerns.

"Security concerns have been in our minds before and after Sept. 11," said Sharon Kingman, telecommunications managing director of the 2002 Winter Games. "One looks at 802.11 as a big free-for-all. We felt it was better and safer to use landlines."

The 802.11 standard enables people to send information over a certain set of free and unregulated radio waves. Wireless networks based on 802.11, which are inexpensive to build and growing in popularity, let people access the Internet or other computers without wires.

Airlines say they want to use 802.11 to meet the government's demand for tighter security. But critics say these networks are unsafe because the information travels without any encryption over easy-to-access radio waves.

"A turn of mind is needed," said John Arquilla, a member of the RAND policy research institute and an associate professor of defense analysis at the Naval PostGraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "We need to start looking at security first for our communications, rather than looking at just how efficient these things make our lives."

see related story: Wireless workplaces asking for trouble SchlumbergerSema, which replaced IBM as the official Olympic technology sponsor this year, agrees with the decision.

"What we need is something not cutting-edge, not bleeding-edge," said Jason Durrant, SchlumbergerSema's 2002 Winter Olympics systems integration and testing director. "We never brought 802.11 in-house, never into our integration labs. We looked around and said, 'Salt Lake, this is our first shot; we'll get it right.'"

There are, however, at least four 802.11 networks in and around the Olympic Games, Kingman said.

Kingman said biathletes have their own 802.11 network to time themselves, and at least three press agencies have their own networks to get photographs from ski slopes to media centers.

"Ski slope photographers would have to wait until the end of the day, ski down, drive to the media center, then process it," Kingman said. "Now, they never leave their positions."