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3G wireless hotspots banned from Olympic venues

The Olympic Committee has a long list of items [PDF] that spectators are prohibited from bringing to the games. Many of these things make sense - knives, firearms and ammunition, explosives, and illegal drugs, for example - but one item has caught the attention of tech-savvy sports fans: 3G wireless hotspots.

According to the rules, "smart devices" like Android phone, iPhones, and tablets will be permitted at Olympic venues. But they "must not be used as wireless access points to connect multiple devices."

At crowded events like the Olympics, concerts or major conferences, public Wi-Fi networks can quickly become overwhelmed and slow to a crawl with thousands of people trying to tap in. Hotspots, therefore, are an attractive alternative, essentially putting a personal Wi-Fi network in your pocket.

While they are convenient, hotspots will also eat up available bandwidth in the area, which likely prompted the ban. But there might be another reason. As GigaOm pointed out, BT is an official partner of the Olympic Games, and is offering paid access to its network at Olympic venues.

Olympics attendees can purchase 90 minutes of Internet access via BT for £5.99, 24 hours for £9.99, or five days for £26.99, GigaOm said. Existing BT customers can log in for free.

Of course, many smartphones can be turned into Wi-Fi hotspots for tethering purposes, but that depends on how the network is holding up.

The rules point out that "items too large to be electronically screened" are banned, so efforts to thwart the hotspot ban might get tripped up by airport-style screening methods.

What else is banned? No walkie-talkies, phone jammers, or radio scanners. Leave the laser pointers and strobe lights at home. Make sure your camera is compact; the committee is banning large photographic and broadcast equipment larger than 30cm in length, including tripods and monopods.