Fascinating story in today’s Wall Street Journal about Ousama Abushagur and his merry band of engineers who have hijacked Libya’s telecommunications infrastructure to get rebel fighters and others back online.
Margaret Coker and Charles Levinson report:
To make that possible, engineers hived off part of the Libyana cellphone network—owned and operated by the Tripoli-based Libyan General Telecommunications Authority, which is run by Col. Gadhafi's eldest son—and rewired it to run independently of the regime's control. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, asked about the rebel cellphone network, said he hadn't heard of it.
Until that point, Col. Moammar Gadhafhi’s forces had taken control of the network, forcing rebels to communicate on the battlefield with a decidedly old-school technology: flags.
Abushagur, an Alabama-raised and educated engineer, conceived the idea on—what else does an engineer-entrepreneur use?—the back of a napkin and leveraged his network of engineers and Middle Eastern contacts to make it all happen. (A video of an interview with The Journal's Coker is below),
He went to a high school named after the legendary astronaut Gus Grissom and, from 1998-2004, studied electrical engineering at the University of Alabama Huntsville. There, he was a student research assistant at UAH’s Nano Micro Fabrication Facility, where he helped develop a coating procedure for fiber optic cable
He lists his current role as vice president of business development for AOGC, working with various multinational technology companies to introduce them to Middle East market.
So the next time you get that sinking feeling that no one appreciates engineers or that your work is undervalued, think of Abushagur and his engineers. While it’s still early in the Libyan rebellion, they may have made a huge difference.
According to http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4076550/Study-traces-tech-link-to-radical-70s-groups
Islamic radicalism counts many engineers among its members, with architectural engineer Mohammad Atta, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, the most notorious. But the participation of highly technically educated professionals in the movement began long before: in the 1970s in Egypt, according to the authors of "Engineers of Jihad."
Wow! It seems like an easy task; just set up a cell network with the existing equipment. The detail required is extensive. I'm sure there was help from the outside to make this happen, but it is great to see what can be accomplished when needed.
They would need a Home Locating Registry (HLR), all the records from the previous HLR so that they had the cell numbers and SIM card associations, a MSC (presumably the Radio Node Controllers, RNC, were collocated with the base stations). If they wanted to support data, they needed IP address assignments, SGSN, and GGSN. Then, you reroute the RNC to connect to the local MSC, and voila, a cell phone network. The biggest problem they faced was the boycott on Libya. As the WSJ said, Huawei, the supplier of the Libyan network, wouldn't sell to the rebels, and equipment was rerouted against export controls through UAE, from companies unknown.
Incoming calls from outside Libya are likely the biggest issue, as all of the outside telephone companies wouldn't know to route to the new network. Outgoing calls would be easier, but paying for them could be an issue, as I doubt billing has been re-established. But, I think they have regional benefactors who are helping with this issue.
There would have been some additional communication rerouting, either IP or ATM routers likely had to be reconfigured.
The WSJ article is at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703841904576256512991215284.html
It contains a fair bit of technical detail:
The Libyan cellphone network was very strictly hierarchical, centered on Tripoli. The short description of what was done: Build a new central facility in Benghazi, reroute all the exchanges in the rebel territory to use the new center, and provision international connectivity (via a satellite circuit to UAE). For now, there is no billing system, so local calls are free, and international calls are allowed only for individual numbers that are authorized.
The original system was built by Huawei (of China) which refused to supply equipment to the rebels, so they had to figure out how to make other vendors' gear work with the Huawei substations.
WKetel, agreed. I'm sure Ousama would divulge few if any details, but I'm sure there's a way to put more color into this tale without tipping tech secrets.
At the very least, we live in a world in which we sit in cubicles all day long in front of computer screens. I'd love to get a sense for what was going through the engineers' minds as they embarked on this... it must have been exciting, scary, all of the above perhaps.
Brian, I can see that it would indeed be a very interesting story, but I would caution for two reasons, first, making public what was done would open the door for others to undo it, and second, if it was done there it could also be done elsewhere to some other network. It might be similar to publishing plans for a home-made A-bomb. Some nasty unintended results, is what I mean.