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Mobile coverage comes to embattled Misurata

'We are experiencing an outage due to rocket attacks'

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The chaps behind rough telephone network Free Libyana are now up and running in recently-retaken Misurata, bringing much-needed mobile connectivity to Libya's third-largest city. The engineers arrived by fishing boat, having endured a 30-hour ride from Malta.

Ousama Abushagur was again behind the operation, though this time there wasn't a local network to steal – Misurata's infrastructure having been extensively damaged by months of fighting. But local engineers were still on hand to get a stand-alone network up and running, and now the residents can start working out who amongst their friends and contacts has survived.

The city was initially taken by the rebels in February, but was slowly retaken by Gaddafi's forces over the next couple of months. Coalition air cover provided some support to the rebels, who retook the city during May, and those forces are now pushing out towards nearby Zlitan, but the months of fighting has left Misurata in a right mess.

Which is what prompted another effort by Ousama Abushagur and his supporters to get mobile telecommunications working, bringing in equipment from Malta (30 miles across the Med) and integrating it into an Ericsson base station which was still standing. Despite regular power cuts, and the occasional rocket attack, the network is now up and running.

Backhaul to the Free Libyana network isn't possible, as the rebels don't hold the intervening land, so it is a satellite uplink, with most of the network infrastructure (HLR, SMSC, MSC) being newly brought in. That means users need to be registered manually with the network, which also enables the operator to restrict connectivity to genuine locals, rather than government agents who got left behind.

But just like Free Libyana, the Misurata network isn't charging users for domestic calling, being entirely funded by donations solicited by Ousama Abushagur, mainly from Libyans living abroad. That can't last forever, but these days network infrastructure is a necessary precursor to rebuilding, so hopefully that will quickly follow. ®

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