A busy week for the UK is a busy week for BT…keeping the country connected during major events


By Howard Watson, Chief Security and Networks Officer, BT Group

For just over a week in May, the eyes of the world were firmly cast upon the UK as it played host to two events which generated substantial domestic and global interest. The first of these was the Coronation of King Charles III – a grandiose affair steeped in tradition on Saturday 6th May, then brought into the 21st century by a host of pop royalty the following day in Windsor.

No sooner had the Coronation Weekend disappeared into the rear-view mirror than we’d switched attention to Eurovision 2023, taking place from 9th-13th May in Liverpool – a city as synonymous with music as you’ll find.

It goes without saying that these types of events take huge amounts of planning and logistics, not just for the organisers themselves but across an array of sectors which all need to accommodate for an influx of people, be that local government, hoteliers, restaurants etc.

Perhaps less well known is the role that we at BT play in ensuring everything runs smoothly from a connectivity perspective as we ensure our networks are able to handle the increased demand such occasions bring. Much of this is built into our existing infrastructure, as we continue to invest heavily in both our fibre and mobile networks to manage growing peaks in demand. With planned events like the Coronation or Eurovision, which are in everyone’s diaries for months, we’re able to forecast expected traffic and dimension our networks to support this additional capacity.

This is needed given the changing trends in how we watch these events. On the day of the Coronation itself, for example, we saw a 10 per cent increase nationwide on the mobile network, as well as an uplift of up to 5 TBps on the fixed network as people watched the Procession online – in 4K over BBC iPlayer for example - rather than over traditional broadcast.

On the subject of online viewing, it’s worth noting the crucial role that our very own BT Tower played in the broadcast delivery journey, receiving as it did many ultra-high-definition (UHD) video feeds from Richmond Terrace and Windsor Castle. These were then sent on to the BBC via fibre connections, before the Media & Broadcast network distributed the produced content to the national broadcasters around the world.

Keeping the crowds connected

Where our presence was felt more keenly was in the vicinity of the events themselves, with visitors from the UK and abroad flocking to both London and Liverpool in their droves. Along the procession route between Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, we saw a 102 per cent increase in traffic volume (13.618 TB) when compared to the preceding Saturday. To put this into context, 13.618 TB is the equivalent of streaming roughly 5,400 hours of HD video or posting 2.7 million Coronation photos to social media. Thankfully our brilliant Networks teams had worked tremendously hard to bring additional capacity to key areas through the deployment of temporary sites in both Green Park and Hyde Park, complementing our existing infrastructure to ensure customers retained access to a fast and reliable service throughout the day. All the more important as we also zero-rated data for all EE customers, meaning they were able to stay in touch with friends and family or post their favourite moments of the weekend on social media, all without the worry of data limits.

These temporary sites accounted for over 15 per cent (2.12TB) of mobile traffic in the area on Saturday, while on Sunday 7th May similar sites in Windsor catered for just over 1TB of data, accommodating demand at the Coronation Concert.

Meanwhile in Liverpool – which attracted 500,000 tourists during Eurovision week – we saw the impact of overseas visitors on our mobile network. More than 55,000 international roamers used more than 3TB of data, the equivalent of 750,000 hours of music streaming. And while Sweden took home first place in Eurovision itself, its Scandinavian neighbour Norway led the way in data roaming, accounting for 740GB in the run up to the finals.

Robust day-to-day cyber protection

Beyond ensuring our networks could meet the demands of these two mammoth events, an equally important consideration for us when managing such occasions is that of security. From a physical perspective, our colleagues at Openreach worked tirelessly to seal and secure street furniture in order to protect our infrastructure from crowd damage.

For cyber, things are a little different. In an evolving threat landscape, we of course prioritise the security of our networks and customers above all else. But for both the Coronation and Eurovision, it was very much business-as-usual in terms of protecting our infrastructure. This is precisely because security is an everyday priority for us, with an industry-leading team of 3,000 security professionals working non-stop to protect both our networks & data, as well as our Business & Consumer customers.

We have a holistic view of emerging threats, derived from the knowledge provided by our 24/7 monitoring and intelligence tools. Combined with our truly global presence supporting customers across 180 countries, this gives us huge insight and a ringside seat on global data and cyber trends. This, coupled with AI & machine learning tools which enhance our threat detection and prediction capabilities, stand us in great stead from a cyber security perspective, not just for major events but each and every day.