TORONTO - Employers beware: technological advancements mean that with just the click of a mouse, Olympic fans can for the first time access live streaming of the Games at any time of the day or night from their work stations.
IT experts are questioning whether businesses are equipped to handle the crush of online traffic generated by hordes of Olympic faithful following the Games from their desks.
Businesses which use a single link to the outside world for email and web browsing could see serious slow downs or even crashes unless they prepared in advance, said Darryl Wilson, an IT trouble shooter who works at Dimension Data Canada in Mississauga, Ont.
"If there's a big hockey game or something going on...that link that they use to the outside world may become saturated because everyone's trying to get all this content from the Internet," said Wilson.
"Those businesses could find themselves unable to access email, send messages to clients or have their Internet operational if they don't have controls in place to limit non-business critical traffic versus critical traffic."
Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium estimates 10 million visitors will surf onto CTVOlympics.ca and RDSolympiques.ca sites. Together, they are offering 2,350 hours of live streaming of the Games as well as replays, highlights, photos and results.
"This will be the first time in Canada ... actually the first time anywhere, where every second of the Winter Games will be made available live," said Alon Marcovici, the consortium's vice-president of digital media.
The websites will simulcast live feeds from CTV, TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, V and RDS. They'll also provide a feed of competitions adorned only by natural sound, not commentary, in an effort to give Internet surfers the feel of the Olympics from their chairs. Niche sports such as the biathlon which don't get major TV play can be seen in their entirety on the web.
At peak times, more than a dozen live streams will be running simultaneously.
Several people interviewed in downtown Toronto said they intend to watch the Olympics while on the job.
Allan Groome, 60, a pharmaceutical worker, said he'll watch the Olympics online from his workplace to avoid missing his favourite competitions playing out in Vancouver during his work hours.
"I can check it out at work," he said. "I have an Internet session there. I'd probably like to just sit at home on my laptop and check it out too," he said.
Gilbert Hummell, a 31-year-old construction worker from Courtright, Ont., said he'll be watching the Games online at home, but also at work.
"I'll primarily be watching the hockey," Hummell said. "If I'm going to watch it online, it'll be because I'm at work or if I'm at home somebody else is watching television."
Robert Ho, 45, who works for Scotiabank in downtown Toronto, said he'll try to follow Olympic events on giant public televisions mounted on the walls of the bank tower during his breaks rather than sneaking peeks online at work.
"From a working standpoint, it's pretty tough when you're at work to have a view online," Ho said.
Canadians can also watch Olympics action through their XBox gaming consoles, on YouTube and through iTunes.
Bell estimates that more than three billion people across the globe will watch the Games through live broadcasts, the Internet and cellphones. Vancouver2010.com alone is expected to attract 1.5 billion page views, so Bell has leveraged 30,000 servers worldwide to deliver the portal.
Bell has also expanded its wireless and fibre optic networks in Vancouver and Whistler and has a backup path to ensure "flawless" delivery of the Games, said Justin Webb, Bell's vice-president of Olympic services.
Rogers can accommodate spikes in traffic for big events like the Olympics, said spokeswoman Ashleigh Blackmore, who added that watching video over the Internet doesn't generally consume enormous amounts of bandwidth.
Most Canadian service providers can support large amounts of data, Wilson said, but "we've seen in the past around the world when big events are happening, slowdowns in the Internet itself."
Millions of viewers were left frustrated by the online crash of the Victoria's Secret fashion show in New York in 1999. Half a million viewers saw only a few minutes of Oprah Winfrey's 2008 webcast of an interview with "A New Earth" author Eckhart Tolle before overwhelmed Internet servers went down.