Saudi Telecommunications (STC) has successfully handled another year of the holy Hajj pilgrimage, a two weeks long event that received millions of visitors. Well aware of the importance of reliable communications, STC partnered with Nokia Siemens Networks to provide high-quality voice and data services to Mecca’s Hajj pilgrims. The joint effort met with success: Nokia Siemens Networks who is the operator’s sole GSM and 3G radio supplier at Mecca, Medina and other areas stepped up network coverage to provide support for millions of mobile calls made and millions of text messages sent during the hajj season.
Zaid Al-Shabanat, STC Operations GM, said “As millions of pilgrims move through Masha’er; from Mina to Muzdalifah along to Arafat, an area of 15 square km, we have to manage a huge surge in subscriber numbers, not to mention the existing customer base. Maintaining the quality of calls while ensuring visiting pilgrims stay connected has never been an easy task, but it is one that we have been able to fulfill with the support of Nokia Siemens Networks for close to a decade now.”
Nokia Siemens Networks’ association with the Hajj pilgrimage can be traced way back to 2001 when it was tasked by STC to build the network of Mecca to accommodate heavy Ramadan traffic. Today the equipment extending to most of the key pilgrim areas has resolutely stood the test of peak hour traffic that ranges to a phenomenal two million erlangs during hajj period.
The Hajj is a two-weeks event; when the pilgrimage is over, 90% of the network is drawn down, going off air. This means every year dedicated teams for network planning, optimization, and implementation must be deployed to get the sites on air and optimize the network prior to pilgrims’ arrival. First line maintenance and network monitoring teams must be deployed very quickly, and the network must be geared up to handle high traffic generated by pilgrims moving in three different areas. To complicate an already daunting challenge, the Network Implementation team has a very small time window to work in. Coping with such overwhelming high-density traffic in such a confined geographical space requires robust equipment and reliable performance under critical conditions, especially in the radio network.
To accommodate this traffic load STC implemented a specialized software solution developed by Nokia Siemens Networks enabling STC to improve call processing and boost Base Station Controller performance by solving unforeseen problems. The proactive maintenance is an inventive solution and engineered service that prevents possible faults from causing harm to the network performance and improve network quality and maintenance efficiency. Like this STC could meet subscriber demand and boost customer satisfaction. 24/7 field teams maintained the network around the clock, with nonstop monitoring and remote support services underpinning their efforts. With this vigilant network supervision, as well as the ability to tune network parameters and optimize sites on the fly, they succeeded in minimizing blocked and congested cells. The implementation involved a remarkable performance, setting up and rolling out many Base Station Controllers (BSCs), Base Tower Stations (BTS) not to mention a number of firsts such as mega BSCs and High Speed Signaling (HSL) Links. EDGE was also used for the first time in the Hajj area to provide high throughput for multimedia applications.
Ali Damiri, Head of Saudi, Levant and Iran sub-region for Nokia Siemens Networks, Said “Every year, the pilgrimage generates an unprecedented amount of traffic and a disproportionate tele-density during the period it lasts. The onus is on us to rise to the challenge and we are constantly looking at ways to innovate and improve our solution to help STC manage the massive influx, such as offering localized service support to our flexible BSS Software System.”