Libyan rebels set up own mobile network

Mobile phone service to the rebels in the East was cut off by the regime in Tripoli

Libyan rebels in the East of the country have set up their own mobile phone network connecting them to the rest of the world, over a month after they were cut off from a centralized network that required all international calls to be routed through an international gateway in Tripoli.

The new network, called Libyana Al Hurra, started operations on April 2, and is physically isolated from the Libyana network in Tripoli, said Ousama Abushagur, a Libyan telecommunications engineer in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), who led the team that set up the new network.

Before the new network became operational, people in Benghazi and other strongholds of the rebel administration had to use satellite phones from Thuraya Telecommunications.

The cost of satellite phones is high, and most people in the East of Libya could not afford them, Abushagur said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. People had to step into open areas to make calls, which made it insecure because they had to be out in public when making a call, he added.

Before the rebels were cut off from the Libyana Tripoli mobile network, all communications were routed through centralized systems in Tripoli. The GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network's HLR (home location register), which holds the database of subscribers on the network, its international gateways, Short Message Service Centers (SMSCs), and other key components of the network were in Tripoli, Abushagur said.

Abushagur and his team had to introduce into the network some key equipment and data before they could offer mobile phone service in the East of the country. They had to rebuild the HLR and also get into place the network elements that were missing on the Eastern side of the country because of the earlier centralization of the network in Tripoli.

"We didn't have the HLR, which means that we had no idea who the customers were," Abushagur said. The team had to rebuild enough of the database for the East, so that people there could use the network, without interruption to the service, he said.

The group raised funds from Libyan businessmen in the U.A.E to buy equipment from various vendors, then carried it into Benghazi after flying it via Egypt, Abushagur said. The group also purchased satellite capacity on Intelsat 15, and connected it to the network of IDT for international voice service. More international carriers are also connecting to the network, Abushagur said.

The new network had some 800,000 active SIMs (subscriber identity modules) as on April 2.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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