Rebels improve communications by taking a mobile phone network from Colonel Gaddafi
Libyan fighters taking on the might of Colonel Gaddafi’s armed forces had to communicate with flags, until rebel engineers hijacked a mobile phone network run by Gaddafi’s son.
In a remarkable feat of engineering, a team of engineers – led by a 31 year old Libyan national Ousama Abushagur – separated out part of the mobile network belonging to the state controlled operator Libyana.
Libyana is one of two mobile operators in Libya, and it is owned and operated by the Tripoli-based Libyan General Telecommunications Authority, which in turn is run by Gaddafi’s eldest son Muhammad.
The second mobile operator in Libya is also controlled by Gaddafi’s family.
Network Replaces Coloured Flags
According to the Wall Street Journal the rebel network, which has dubbed “Free Libyana”, relies on millions of dollars worth of equipment that has been supplied by Etisalat, the UAE carrier. The network was also helped by the financial support of other Arab nations.
The Chinese equipment supplier Huawei apparently refused to get involved as it had supplied the equipment to Gaddafi’s Libyana.
Rebel engineers based in the beseiged city of Benghazi teamed up with their Libyana counterparts there, and used a “captured” database of phone numbers to patch existing customers into their new system.
The team then fused their new equipment onto the network and cut out the Tripoli-based hub. Etisalat is providing a satellite feed through which Free Libyana calls are routed.
Over the years, Gaddafi had built his telecommunications infrastructure to fan out from Tripoli. This meant that all calls, both landline and mobile, were routed through the hub within the capital city, giving Gaddafi and his security services total control over Libya’s telecom and internet infrastructure.
Up until now, the amateur army fighting Gaddafi’s professional forces has been relying on a primitive system of communication flags to communicate and signal an advance or retreat.
“We went to fight with flags: Yellow meant retreat, green meant advance,” General Ahmed al-Ghatrani, a rebel commander in Benghazi was quoted as saying by the WSJ. “Gaddafi forced us back to the stone age.”
Rebel commanders will now be able to effectively communicate with their forces and order them to certain locations to engage Gaddafi’s troops.
London Data Centre
Abushagur, the man behind the rebel network, is a telecom executive who grew up in the United States but now lives in Abu Dhabi. He became increasingly alarmed at the advances of government forces, and realised that Gaddafi’s forces were switching off the mobile networks prior to an attack, and also jamming the frequencies used by satellite phones.
In an effort to combat this, Abushagur designed the plans for a rebel network on the back of an airplane napkin. And it seems that a data centre in London is playing a key role in the operation of the rebel Free Libyana network, which went live on 2 April.
Abushagur told the Telegraph newspaper that the new network is reliant on a data centre in London’s Docklands.
According to press reports, domestic calls are currently free (until the billing is sorted out) and works throughout eastern Libya up until the Ajdabiya, the last rebel-held town in the east.
International calls from Libya however are limited to high ranking rebel alliance officials.