Converging on Mecca

Mega construction projects, delivering huge converged networks, are becoming increasingly common in the region. NME talks to Amr Taher of the Nagah Group about KAAEP in Saudi Arabia.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  August 1, 2006

|~|taher200.jpg|~|Taher: “The vision for the project was unique – it had never been done before.” |~|Mecca’s King Abdul Aziz Endowment Project (KAAEP), in addition to being one of the largest construction projects in the Middle East, is also the site of one of the largest converged network implementations in the world. KAAEP, situated opposite the Holy Mosque, is designed to provide facilities for the increasing numbers of pilgrims who head to Mecca, as well as local residents. The complex consists of several buildings around a main 531-metre tower. The Project’s 75,000 residents and users, in addition to shops and offices, will have access to voice, data and video services delivered over IP infrastructure. In total, 16 services will travel over more than five million metres of fibre-optic cable, then on to Cat6 Ethernet cables to each individual room. Much of the implementation of the converged network has been done by various companies within the Nagah Group; group companies including Hasoub and BT respectively supplied cabling from Systimax and deployed the network; Nagah companies will also take care of the day-to-day running and billing of the networked services. “The vision for the project was unique – it had never been done before,” says Amr Taher, president of SFTG, part of Nagah. “So we had a lot of challenges to deploy the services that we had committed to. The most difficult part, after sorting out how we were going to operate it, was ‘how are we going to build it?’ “That logistical part of the project was very tough, especially with the very complex architecture that was there and the amount of labour that was working on the project – there were about 15,000 people working there. It was very difficult to move equipment into the project, store it, deploy it. So the idea we had was to pre-stage all of the technology in our labs, and then we shipped the equipment, already assembled in racks, to the site.” In addition to installing the system in challenging circumstances, integrators had to work with equipment from 15 different vendors within the network: Taher says this made the implementation extremely difficult, as even the main network incorporated products from both Cisco and Nortel. Another tough task for BT was to create and deploy a universal billing system for the Project. This needed to take billing data from across all of the converged services, and deliver it to third parties for processing. A Nagah company will also be running the billing and call-centre functions of KAAEP in the long term. “This was a very challenging project for us; we had to train and hire around 120 integrators to work on it – we are now using many of them as consultants ,” says Taher. “This project has helped us develop our skills base massively.”||**||

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