According to the UK’s Daily Telegraph, rebels in Eastern Libya have set up their own independent mobile phone network, less than a month after they were cut off from the country’s centralised infrastructure, which required all calls to be routed through the international gateway in Tripoli. The new network, called ‘Free Libyana’, is the brainchild of UAE-based telecoms executive Ousama Abushagur, a Libyan national who was raised in Alabama. He admitted that the the move was necessitated after humanitarian convoys that he had organised suffered logistical problems because the Gaddafi government was broadcasting jamming signals to cripple the satellite telephones used by the rebels.
Free Libyana was supplied with the necessary telecoms equipment by UAE telecoms giant Etisalat, which stepped in when Chinese telecoms manufacturer Huawei rejected Abushagur’s approach; an unnamed Libyan businessman based in the UAE bankrolled the project. The network was rolled out by a team of international telecoms engineers – three Libyans and four Westerners – who flew to Egypt before crossing the border into Libya and commencing work in the rebel-held capital Benghazi. The rebels were reportedly aided by Benghazi-based employees of Libyana, the country’s largest mobile phone operator by subscribers. According to Abushagur the new network launched on 2 April, and currently has 750,000 active SIM cards in operation. Although the network is widely available in the east of the country, international calling is limited to selected senior rebel figures.