Every year, the pilgrimage to the holy places in Saudi Arabia takes place between 8 and 13 of the 12th month of the lunar calendar, around the cities of Mecca and Medina. This year 2016, the pilgrimage will take place between September 09th and 14th.
Few days before, millions of Muslims pilgrims, coming from the whole world, converge towards Mecca and Al Madina. Knowing that this pilgrimage is a religious obligation that any Moslem must carry out at least once in a lifetime, as long as they have the financial means for it. Outside the set period of Hajj, Muslims could, if they wish, carry out throughout the year what is called El Oumra which is an optional recommendation.
The Hajj, which is a significant religious event, requires tremendous efforts by Saudi authorities, during and after the pilgrimage, in all the fields and particularly in that of telecommunication. Indeed, during this period, the number of calls or text messages, per day, amounts in several million on the mobile networks particularly in Mecca, Al Medina and Jeddah airport. On Mount Arafat, the holy place which constitutes the prime time of the hajj, there could be up to 2,5 million calls to the peak hour. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that El Oumra generally requires less effort on behalf of telecom operators because it is held throughout the year.
In the field of the telecommunication, which is pertinent for LTE Magazine, the mobile networks constitute a great technical challenge for all the telecom operators in order to ensure a correct functioning for the mobile networks. Mobiles become useful for the pilgrims in order to allow them, on the one hand, to keep in touch with their compatriots and their nearest relatives present with them and on the other hand to call their families, their friends or their colleagues at work in their home countries. The telecom operators, under the supervision of Saudi regulation authorities, do not spare any effort to satisfy pilgrims through great attention by providing them with best telecom services, to ensure for them a better interconnection between the telecom networks and also to guarantee a better roaming service.
In view of providing a continuous service for pilgrims, voice call and Internet on their mobile on calls towards abroad, the Saudi telecom operators constantly work on improving their service, taking all the necessary measures as:
Increase in the capacity of the mobile networks while multiplying wireless mobile stations, upgrading it to a sufficient capacity in and over the holy places. At the interior of the buildings and in the various tunnels around the holy places, the telecom operators increase all the dimensions to guarantee a powerful continuous coverage.
In addition to the actions on their networks at the national level, the Saudi telecom operators negotiate with the other countries, in particular Muslim countries, the increase of international connections to be able to evacuate the voice call international traffic and generated data during the pilgrimage. Because, during this period, the international and national traffic are at their peak.
Contracts of roaming are signed with all the operators of the world. For that, those of Saudi Arabia carry out substantial investments, in order to envisage additional functionalities in their platforms on management and particularly, pre-paid roaming offers. During the period of the pilgrimage certain operators from Muslim countries negotiate with Saudi Operators a discount on the expenses of the international mobile roaming for the pilgrims in holy places.
For the 2016 telecom plan, the set of the Saudi telecom operators anticipates more than5000 mobile basic stations in the cities concerned with the pilgrimage in order to satisfy the pilgrims under good conditions. These mobile basic stations, and their adequate equipment, is provided within the framework of an engineering process based on predicting traffic of pilgrims and by coordinating between the telecom operators and the suppliers of telecommunication equipments in Saudi Arabia.
All these actions are carried out under the supervision of the regulator of the Saudi Telecom company CITC (Communications and Information Technology Commission). Indeed, in order to improve the reports on cost and value of mobiles’ services, the regulator founded a framework ensuring the competition between the actors of the market of telecommunications by introducing, to the market, several mobile operators offering all existing technologies (GSM, 3G and LTE or 4G). Also the regulator takes care of respecting the quality of service, with the follow-up of wireless frequencies around the Holy Mosque (Almsjed Alharam) and the holy fields to avoid all the harmful interferences which can affect pilgrims or governmental agencies communications. Currently, in the market of the telecommunication in Saudi Arabia, among other actors, there are three large operators of the mobile telecom: Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Etihad Etisalat Company (Mobily) and MTC Saudi Arabia (Zain).
Specificity of Hajj:
The particularity of Hajj, lies in the importance of dealing with traffic generated by mobile networks in few days. Traffic, whose equivalent, has never been seen at any time during the remainder of the year in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. Efforts made every year on the same place, would exceed those deployed during the organization of the great world events such as international sporting events. These assertions are also illustrated by the declaration of a person in charge on the installation of the telecom equipment in the holy places: « telecommunications are put at hard test during Hajj.
For example in the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, it is necessary to ensure a communication of ultra-high density for the few million pilgrims who go there. At rush hours, it is 860 million minutes of combined calls that are necessary to be guaranteed « .
Chronology of Hajj
Even if the period of Hajj is anticipated this year between September the 09th and 14th 2016, the last preparations of this great event start much earlier. Between the 1st and 20th September, 2016, millions of faithful believers pave their way to Al Medina and Mecca. The telecom operators do not spare any effort to ensure the infrastructures necessary in order to allow the pilgrims to easily communicate with their close relatives present with them or those who remained in their home countries. However, starting as from September 09, 2016, more than three million pilgrims will move towards the valley of Mina located 10 km away from Mecca, thus setting the beginning of the hajj. A day later, they leave all to the Mount Arafat where they spent one day. The evening of September 10th 2016 pilgrims are obliged to return towards Mina while passing by Muzdalifah. They will spend two more days at Mina and after the fulfillment of the Abraham ritual in Mina, they return towards Mecca and more precisely towards the holy mosque of Kaaba. The telecom operators must follow the movement of the pilgrims during these days in order to offer a better quality of service to them and to ensure connections in the important places like the Mount Arafat.
Following the technological tendencies, the Saudi telecom operators under the supervision of regulator CITC, take into account the increase in the use of Smart phones while ensuring of the national and international band-width that is sufficient enough to cover the augmenting use of Data. In a nutshell, during Hajj, the telecom operators in Saudi Arabia mobilize all their resources, human and technical, to provide telecommunications of high quality to the pilgrims.
Some data as provided for Hajj 2016:
Mecca for base stations is expected:
-For GSM technology: 705 base stations;
-For 3G technology: 654 base stations;
-For 4G (LTE) : 508 base stations (TDD) and 230 base stations (FDD).
Medina for base stations is expected:
-For GSMtechnology: 688 base stations;
-For 3Gtechnology: 684 base stations;
-For 4G (LTE) technology: 426 base stations (TDD) et 241 base stations (FDD).
Mina for base stations is expected:
-For GSM technology: 262 base stations;
-For 3G technology: 154 base stations.
Muzdalifah for base stations is expected:
-For GSM technology: 94 base stations;
-For 3G technology: 69 stations de base.
Mont Arafat for base stations is expected:
-For GSM technology: 177 stations de base;
-For 3G technology: 139 stations de base.
Khaouja Ahmed Consultant Telecom and TICs and ITU expert.