How Libyan Rebels Built Their Own Cellphone Network

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Until recently, Libyan rebel had resorted to waving flags in order to communicate with each other in their fight against Muammar Gaddafi. Green flags signaled an advance, yellow flags signaled a retreat.

A rebel commander told the Wall Street Journal that Gaddafi “forced us back to the stone age.”

Libya’s cellphone network is under the control of one of Gaddafi’s sons, and all calls are routed through the capital city of Tripoli where they can be monitored and controlled by intelligence agents.

But in early March, Libyan telecom executive Ousama Abushagur hatched a plan—drawn up on a napkin, no less—to split a section of the country’s cellphone network off so that calls could be made without being routed through Tripoli first.

After Abushagur’s request for the parts needed to integrate with Libya’s network was turned down by Huawei, which built Libya’s existing cellphone infrastructure, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar gave Abushagur the “several million dollars of telecommunications equipment” he needed to build his rogue network and he set off for rebel-occupied Benghazi.

Abushagur’s team then joined forces with Benghazi engineers and “fused the new equipment into the existing cellphone network, creating an independent data and routing system free from Tripoli’s command,” according to the Wall Street Journal report.

Once the new network had been established, Abushagur’s team was able to get its hands on the database of phone numbers that had previously been routed through the system in Tripoli and re-route them through the new system, called “Free Libyana.” Calls are now handled via a satellite controlled by a company called Etisalat based in the United Arab Emirates.

The rebel phone network has been up and running since April 2nd and currently works for free domestic calling throughout much of eastern Libya.

(via WSJ)

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