Creating a Mobile Mecca

Tomorrow marks the start of the Hajj, the week of pilgrimage to Mecca that is the obligation of every able-bodied Muslim at some point in their life. The coming week will bring us the amazing images and stories of some of the millions of pilgrims that make life changing journey to Islam's holiest site. But well in advance of the pilgrims, technology infrastructure to support the modern lifestyles of many of those journeying to Mecca has been rolled out, and alongside the rituals that accompany the event now sit a growing array of modern conveniences to keep the connected pilgrim from missing a beat on their journey.

Roaming agreements are in place globally with local wireless operators in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, mobile vans will be supplying, well, mobile phones and SIM cards to visitors looking to stay in touch from Mecca, and big technology companies are putting the spotlight on their successes in capturing the important contracts to bring high-tech conveniences to the area. This year is even seeing mesh networks put in place to keep visitors attached by wi-fi. Indeed, some past pilgrims say this is not out of sync with the overall commercialization of the areas surrounding Mecca, with Starbucks and Cinnabons greeting those who have come to satisfy their obligations.

This commercialization, which many would simply call modernization, is indeed similar to what we see in places such as the Vatican, or outside the World Cup. Where there are mass flows of people, there must also be modern conveniences -- today this means not just water, transportation and sanitation, but a cell tower and possibly a selection of latest mobile handsets to see us through our duties.