February 15, 2014
VoIP Allows Athletes And Spectators To Stay Connected With Home… At What Cost?
Sochi isn’t likely a place most Americans knew about prior to the Winter Olympics. Located on the Black Sea it is rather remote, and until it was awarded the Olympic Games, it was really only a resort city for government officials during Soviet rule.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has looked to change that. Sochi has been put on the map, as they say. It will host a Gran Prix auto race and host the World Cup. More importantly it will likely become a winter resort destination – that is the plan, but of course weather will have to agree.
For those who have traveled to Sochi there have been some issues, of course – from unfinished hotels and competition venues that could have been better prepared. However, the bigger issue is that the city is still remote and while not exactly off the grid, it isn’t someplace easy to connect with the outside world.
Mobile phone plans are also expensive in Russia, so visitors have been warned that calls to check in to say hello can be rather pricey. The terrain makes finding a signal difficult as well. Fortunately ,the alternative has been Voice Over IP (VoIP) services such as Skype.
Many of the athletes attending the games have already noted that they’re reaching out to loved ones via Skype. While phone service is spotty Putin made sure that Sochi would be connected, and visitors have noted that the Wi-Fi is very good.
“Whenever you have a large gathering of people from all over the world, they need to communicate locally as well as back home,” Jim Murphy, president of BroadVoice told redOrbit. “With the ubiquity of smartphones and relatively solid WiFi in Sochi, we’re seeing a burst of VoIP traffic during the games, which was not unexpected. People are very comfortable using VoIP apps to call, avoiding expensive data and voice roaming charges.”
However, using Skype or another VoIP services hasn’t come without other concerns. Security had been an overlaying fear in advance of the games and will likely continue until after the Olympic torch is put out, but a terrorist attack has not been the only threat.
Hacking has been an issue, and visitors’ computers and smartphones do make easy targets – especially if security software is not in place.
And then there is the fear from the Russian government as well. It might not be the Soviet Union, but Russia has a history of snooping that goes back to the days of the Czar’s “secret police” more than a century ago.
Last month it was reported that Microsoft – which owns Skype – agreed to share information with Russian officials. This was reportedly done in the name of security, which goes back to those aforementioned terrorist threats.
Thus Skype and other VoIP services come with a good and a bad at this year’s Winter Olympics. They allow for an affordable option for calling home – especially given the abundance of free Wi-Fi – but it could come at the price of privacy.
The best advice is to keep personal data off devices and watch what you say. It is Russia, after all.
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