The Special Olympics is the world’s largest humanitarian sporting event and a global movement to empower people with intellectual disabilities through sport. At the 2018 Special Olympics in Italy, an athlete got lost and it took two days to find him. Safety is therefore front of mind to ensure that delegations know where athletes are in real-time, in case they get lost or need help, and that athletes can contact their delegation, or the event organisers, if they need any support.

The 2019 event was run by the Abu Dhabi authorities and athletes were hosted in hotels all across the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The organisers were therefore looking for a solution that would allow them to locate athletes quickly if they went missing, got separated from their teammates during busy times like the Opening or Closing ceremonies or left their delegation for any other reason. They also wanted to be able to monitor the buses that were shuttling delegations from their hotels to the various event locations and use the data collected to improve scheduling, both in real-time and for future events.

Any tracking solution used would be on an opt-in basis (no athletes or delegations would be tracked without their consent), so the event organisers needed to get buy in from each of the foreign delegations attending the event. Delegations were particularly interested in a solution that might allow them to reduce the number of people involved in the safety and security of their athletes, as well as giving them access to real-time information in an emergency that would help them to locate anyone who went missing quickly and without incident.

To help the Special Olympics safeguard athletes during the 2019 competition in Abu Dhabi, Sigfox took their tracking solution from concept to execution in just 3 months.


iWire Connect, Sigfox’s network operator in the UAE, spoke with the local Abu Dhabi Special Olympics organising team about providing a tracking solution for the upcoming event. The organising team detailed what they were looking for from the solution – the types of alert and number of messages they wanted to be able to send from the trackers, the acceptable time delay between two messages etc. and then Sigfox, via its IoT agency, converted these customer and network requirements into a technical specification. Sigfox partner LITE-ON then used this specification to manufacture the device, with Sigfox supporting on the development of the device and embedded software. Each device featured an emergency button that athletes could push to immediately alert event organisers and the authorities as to their location.

The application software, which the Special Olympics organisers and the foreign delegations were able to access on a laptop or mobile device to view the location of each of their athletes, was also created by iWire, which provided an end-to-end solution to the Special Olympics. Delegations were able to view the location of each of their athletes, while the Special Olympics organisers were able to view the movement of athletes and delegations around the event as a whole.

The Special Olympics provided a list of participating athletes along with their chosen activities, so iWire was able to preregister them on the platform and assign each device to an athlete. The named devices were then distributed directly to the delegation manager for each country – for compliance reasons, managers also had to authorise for data on their athletes to be collected – who distributed them to each of the athletes in his or her delegation. 8023 devices were distributed in total, embedded in event badges – 7000 to athletes, and the rest to support staff.

The devices sent a message with each owner’s location every ten minutes. However, if the emergency button on the device was pressed, it sent data every minute, to give more up to date information, and therefore greater location accuracy, to organisers looking for the athlete in need of assistance.


The trackers were well received by each of the delegations attending the event, who all opted into the rollout of the solution at the Special Olympics. It was especially commended by those delegations who lost athletes over the course of the event and were able to retrieve them quickly and without incident. Five athletes in total got lost, four of whom were equipped with the tracking solution and were found, on average, within 20 minutes. The fifth one took 24 hours to find because he left his badge, with the device inside, at the hotel. The Special Olympics committee themselves were also impressed with the accuracy and value of the service the solution provided.

The low power battery powering the solution did not need charging at all during the 3 weeks that the athletes were at the event – including the week before when they began to arrive and the 3-5 days afterwards when many stayed on. It also worked well both inside and outside the event spaces and nationwide across the UAE.


  • Multiple Monitoring: The solution is not only capable of monitoring the movement of people, but can be used to track anything from buses to sports equipment, making it useful in many areas of event organisation
  • Fast track implementation: The agile solution can be implemented fast – LiteOn, iWire and Sigfox’s IoT Agency department took it from concept to execution, shipped 10,000 devices, and had them certified for commercial use in only 3 months
  • No bugs: Despite the rapid development and deployment of the solution, there were no issues whatsoever with the devices or the software over the course of the event
  • Simple to use: The application software is fully configurable, and both the device and software provide great functionality, with an easy to use interface
  • Reusable devices: The tracking devices are not single use. They have been specifically designed to be reused, thereby reducing their impact on the environment


Now that the tracking solution has been trialled so successfully at the Special Olympics 2019, there will be a whole host of sporting, entertainment and religious events, including pilgrimages, concerts and tournaments, that can benefit from the added security it brings. Its ability to monitor the movement of people and assets, as well as the data collected, can also help organisers to optimise their logistics and safety procedures and improve scheduling.

Sigfox is looking at various upgrades to the solution’s tracking devices, including reducing their size and waterproofing them, reconfiguring the emergency button to reduce the chances of an alert going off accidently, and increasing the battery life. It is also thinking about adding compatibility with Sigfox’s Bubble technology as a new feature because the technology has already been integrated into the solution.


4.3 million: the total volume of messages sent through the tracking devices during the event

20 mins: the average time it took to find lost athletes equipped with Sigfox’s tracking solution

8023: the number of devices distributed at the event, 7000 of which went to participating athletes

3 weeks: the average battery life for the tracking device

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The Special Olympics is the largest sporting organisation in the world for people with intellectual disabilities. Its aim is to transform lives through the joy of sport by giving children and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to train and compete in a variety of Olympic sports throughout the year, improve their physical well-being, and experience the joy of participating in a climate of continuous exchange. Skills are honed, friendships with other athletes are made and unique experiences are lived together with technicians, volunteers, family members and the whole community. In the 2019 Special Olympics, over 7,000 athletes from more than 170 countries competed in a series of sports, initiatives and activities, held across the seven Emirates.


Sigfox is the initiator of the 0G network and the world’s leading Internet of Things (IoT) service provider. Its global network allows billions of devices to connect to the Internet, in a straightforward way, while consuming as little energy as possible. Sigfox’s unique approach to device-to-cloud communications addresses the three greatest barriers to global IoT adoption: cost, energy consumption and global scalability.

iWire Connect is the Sigfox Operator for the UAE, providing innovative IoT solutions built on Sigfox technology to government and private enterprises seeking ground-breaking digital transformation in the UAE.