Towering ambition

What could be the world's largest building connectivity solution is currently being implemented in a luxury development in Saudi Arabia. Daniel Stanton found out more.

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By  Daniel Stanton Published  May 1, 2006

|~|dmorris200.jpg|~|Morris: Changing the mindset of consultants in the region on how to integrate multiple systems.|~|The King Abdulaziz Endowment Project (KAEP), currently under construction in the holy city of Mecca, is an immense project and it is implementing IT solutions to match.

Facing the Holy Mosque, the development incorporates a 13-storey main building and seven towers, one of which is the world's fourth largest building currently under construction at 531 metres high. It will be home to a mix of retail, residential and hotel developments, with around 75,000 people expected to use it.

Its fully IP-based network will provide guests and businesses with a host of more than 16 IP services such as IPTV, video-on-demand, retail, consumer information and advertising across the 1.4 million square feet development. It will also support an integrated building management system to handle everything from controlling access to hotel rooms to the feed from security cameras.

KAEP's network will have at its heart the Nortel Communication Server 1000 IP Telephony solution with an initial deployment of 18,000 IP phones, expected to rise to 26,000. It will incorporate 400 switches from the Ethernet Routing Switch 8600 and 8300 range.

"This network will provide the most advanced capabilities and facilities for the people it will be serving, not only today but also far into the future," says Amr Taher, president of BT Applied Technologies and the senior consultants for the project.

The physical infrastructure will incorporate what is said to be the world's largest intelligent patching system. This is based on the Systimax iPatch Real Time Infrastructure Management System.

"The consultants realised very early on that it was essential to get the structured cabling component right because of the complexity of the solutions they were going to put in," says Dominic Morris, sales director Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan, Systimax.

"What they were looking to do was to create one of the first IP-enabled turnkey buildings, not only in this region but really on a global basis, whereby they not only wanted to integrate voice and data, but they also wanted to integrate the building management systems. That was going to be 100% reliant on our foundation stone, our structured cabling, which was a combination of copper on the horizontal and fibre on the backbone," he adds.

The system also has to be able to support IP metering. When guests stay in the hotel, all of the IP services they have used, such as video-on-demand, are measured and billed in the same way that electricity metering works. Future Entertainment Works (FEW), which is consulting on the project, is also developing software to enable the 11 different systems used within the complex to talk to each other and share information, allowing one bill to be generated for all of the services used.

"They are actually going to be utilising the infrastructure that they put in place in order to create a revenue generation stream, so it's not just about a single investment, a single capital expenditure at the beginning of the project, it's also looking at the long term ROI," says Systimax's Morris.

In addition, the Systimax system will allow savings to be made in manpower. "When we integrated the intelligent patching system it gave the operators of the building a huge opportunity to increase their ROI by decreasing their operational management costs," he says.
||**|||~||~||~|Khalid Tamraz, who is the infrastructure cabling manager for FEW, has been the cabling consultant on the project. "Basically, we haven't done such a thing in the Middle East," he says.

"The whole project started out like any other normal project, from an electro-mechanical perspective, but we have taken it into a different phase where we wanted to implement a complete IP network. You're talking about a project with so many services like hotel guest systems, access control systems, building management systems, hotel lock systems, mobile telephony, data network, wireless, LAN services, utility metering services, to service the whole compound.

"It's quite a challenge, especially for the people doing the networking itself because they need to balance the communication that's going on the backbone," says Tamraz. "They can't have so many cameras riding on a specific location on one switch or one backbone - it may just overwhelm that fibre, overwhelm that backbone. So they need to spread the load of the traffic that's coming from a certain area to multiple locations."

There are other practical problems within the construction site. "A lot of things have gone wrong with the installation itself," says Tamraz. "If you're not in close coordination with other contractors working inside the building you can easily have your cables cut or scratched. A guy came and cut the cables right off the trunk that we had built."

The scale of the KAEP project is unprecedented in the Middle East. "We’ve used a million feet of fibre so far," says Tamraz. "We're going to go up to probably three times that amount by the time the project is finished. We decided to go with fusion splicing for the fibre itself. I can't imagine having people terminate 15,000 fibre points."

Changes to the building plans have also required FEW to adapt its plans. "First of all, the initial design drawings had the tallest tower to be around 400 metres; now it's gone to 531 metres.

"The initial number of IP outlets was supposed to be about 25,000; now we have gone up to more than 100,000 outlets of UTP or IP services," says Tamraz.

The project has required FEW's 100-strong team to rethink the route of their cabling more than once. "We have gone through 5,000 revisions of chart drawings so far," says Tamraz.

"The labelling scheme has become a nightmare." But Tamraz is not complaining. "It's something you get to do once in a lifetime," he says.

He expects the whole project to go live in 2009, but two of the towers will be up and running with full IP services by the end of June. A company called Digital Service Provider will operate and maintain the site when it is open for business, with several members of the FEW installation team set to join. There is also another team ready to manage the data centre.

"This is a project that is being watched by a lot of people to see how it goes and at the moment it is an enormous success," says Systimax's Morris.

"I think the outcome of this project and the way it's moving forward is already changing the mindset of consultants in the region of how to go about and integrate these multiple systems."||**||

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