ring ring! who’s there?

On the same day that NATO sort-of apologised for a fratricide incident in which a group of tanks the Libyan rebels had put into service were mistaken for Libyan government tanks, it turned out that the MOD was going to send the rebels 500 satellite phones. Well, you can see the point, but the first thing that came to mind was – what? now? why didn’t this happen weeks ago? Is this whole campaign being managed by clowns? And then, of course, I remembered Dave from PR and Sarko and Liam He’s a doctor, you know and Pocket Bismarck. Right.

But then, there’s the Big Society. This is a deeply cool story – Libyan GSM engineers work out how to take over the network in rebel territory and get it going again. The WSJ overstates some elements – it’s not so much that Gadhafi’s government designed the network to be centralised in Tripoli, GSM networks are very centralised by design – but overall it’s a pretty good account. They set up their own switch, home and visitor location registers, and international gateway with satellite connectivity, piped all the base station controllers in their territory into their own set-up, and obtained a copy of the original Libyana HLR with all the phone numbers. Fortunately they decided to let everyone make free calls (viva la revolucion!), or they’d have still been waiting for the billing system to be integrated six months later, whether in the minister’s office or the Libyan Lubyanka.

Ironically, they got quite a bit of help from, of all telcos, Etisalat, the UAE’s national operator. They lent them a lot of equipment and provided the satellite hookup and international access. This is amusing as Etisalat is famous for censoring more Web sites than the Chinese Great Firewall. For their part, the monster Chinese manufacturer Huawei refused to have anything to do with the rebels (or should that be “splittists”?)

This is good as far as it goes, but nobody in NATO CAOC-9 in Naples or the former AIRSOUTH now in Izmir or anywhere else with a NATO TLA is going to let random cell phones talk to the airpower infrastructure. Why didn’t anyone send those satellite phones earlier? Ah, yes, clowns.

Of course, there’s a possibility that they may have been worrying about releasing them into the wild. Here’s Secret Défense confirming assorted loose MANPADs wandering about. But they’re more trackable than arms, less directly dangerous, and far easier to buy anyway.

In other news, there’s a really excellent piece on the Toyota Land Cruiser as an engine of war in the FAZ, for German-speakers only.


  1. SimonF

    Fascinating. But presumably Libyana is still up and running as well and connected to the outside world so what did they do about mobile network codes for incoming routing?

    Oh, and Huawei will be back in there when (if) the rebels win. They’ll just buy that business by undercutting everyone else, as usual.

  2. True enough re. Huawei. (China Development Bank, vendor financing, nudge, wink…Safaricom claimed their whole expansion up to 2009 was funded by their vendor financing.)

    I’m guessing they’re relying on Etisalat, but there are some interesting corner cases that might come up. Would be a cool project to work out which carriers are still routing via Libyana. In the circs, you really wouldn’t want to call someone there from outside and have your call go via Intelligence HQ.




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