Communications in Libya

Communications in Libya has grown quickly, reports TMC, with a state-owned monopoly running both land line telephone service and the country’s only Internet service. Libya Telecom & Technology (LTT) was established in 1997 as a Private Libyan Company and is Libya’s main and biggest Internet service provider to customers nation wide. LTT was merged with the government run General Posts and Telecommunications Company in 2004.

Télécoms Sans Frontières is the leading humanitarian NGO specialized in emergency telecommunications. Its crews of telecom specialists can intervene anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours. They can link up hospitals and other humanitarian agencies via satellite.

Libya’s telecommunications infrastructure is superior to those in most other African countries, says TMC, and services are available at some of the lowest prices on the continent. Market penetration has skyrocketed from one of the lowest in Africa to one of the highest within only two years.

Al-Madar was the sole mobile operator until the introduction of Libyana, a second GSM network, in 2004. Muhammad al-Gaddafi, the eldest son of (former) Libyan president Muammar al-Gaddafi, is the chairman of Libyana. Both mobile networks are government owned.

In 2008 Libya became the first country in continental Africa to break the 100% mobile penetration barrier. Most of Libya’s population has substituted their fixed-lines with mobile phones. Their 3G services segment is currently growing at several hundred percent per year.

General Posts and Telecommunications Company is the state-owned organisation responsible for overseeing telecommunication services in Libya. The company is the main internet provider in Libya, and it cut internet connections between Libya and the rest of the world very shortly after the beginning of the protests against the Gaddafi regime that would result in the 2011 Libyan civil war currently in progress. Internet service was restored August 21, 2011.

A new mobile network has been set up by the rebels in the east of Libya in April, called Libyana Al Hurra, and a similar network in Misrata, will soon also be linked to the Libyana Mobile Phone network in Tripoli, said Ousama Abushagur, a Libyan telecommunications engineer in the U.A.E, who led the team that set up Libyana Al Hurra. Ahmed Shreef, a resident of Tripoli, keeps tabs on telecommunications.

Both rebels and government soldiers have used their phones to take pictures and videos of the conflict, a digital record of fighting from both sides.

Here are some of the top websites and blogs that help give citizen journalists a voice and a list of apps that can help citizen journalists on the move.

Aljazeera explains how the ‘rebel’ phone network evaded shutdown. According to the story, a large satellite dish, a modem, routers and other equipment, connected the existing Libyana network to Etisalat in the UAE, and the rest of the world.

TMC says the government is planning a next generation national fibre optic backbone network, the expansion of ADSL and WiMAX broadband services, new international fibre connections and one of Africas first Fibre-to-the-Home deployments. Huawei won a FTTH contract from Libya Telecom and Technology. Investments into telecommunications infrastructure totaling US$10 billion have been earmarked for the 15 years to 2020.

A tiny gas-powered micro UAV, a quadrocopter, provided aerial recon for the rebels. It “can fly for 25 minutes up to 13,000 feet, uses GPS for navigation and has a range of just under two miles.

It uses a Windows XP-based touchscreen map control, as opposed to a joystick. The rebels needed barely a day of training to use the technology.

Quadcopters, like the Parrot AR Drone can be controlled with an iPhone.

Microdrones include the Aeryon Scout, the Microdrone md4 series, the Draganfly X6, the Honeywell T-Hawk (RQ-16) and the Aurora GoldenEye 50.

The RQ-11B Raven, a hand-launched plane made by AeroVironment, is collaborating with DARPA on Heterogeneous Airborne Reconnaissance Team (HART), to create a swarm of drones flying autonomously. When a soldier wants to see a particular area or follow a specific vehicle, he just clicks on it on a map.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that work with HART include AeroVironment Dragon Eye, AeroVironment Pointer, AeroVironment Raven, AeroVironment WASP, AAI RQ-7, BAE Silver Fox, Boeing ScanEagle, Boeing Hummingbird, General Atomics Predator, General_Atomics Sky Warrior, IAI RQ-5 Hunter, Northrop Grumman Fire Scout, Yamaha RMAX.

HART can simultaneously control multiple “tiers” of reconnaissance aircraft flying as high as 6,000 feet. It gives users access to unmodified UAVs by working through existing ground stations, which continue to control the individual vehicles. When an individual user requests a flight, the system first checks to see if imagery is already stored in its database. The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) provides the satellite and terrestrial links and services.

General Dynamics C4 Systems leads a WIN-T team that includes Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Harris Corporation, L-3 communications, and networking rivals Juniper Networks and Cisco Systems.

Perhaps micro LTE-A relays, slung under UAVs, will deliver broadband anytime, anywhere. Microsats, flying in formation, might be next, and useful for extreme Northern or Southern latitudes.

Satphones with WiFi tethering may be available off the shelf. A small blimp might provide the surface for a large MIMO antenna, maximizing range and throughput. Ubiquity says their NanoStation M, with 2×2 MIMO, can deliver 150+ Mbps real outdoor throughput and up to 15km+ (9 mile) range.

The State Department is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside the reach of governments in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya, reports the New York Times. The State Department and Pentagon have spent at least $50 million to create an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan using towers on protected military bases inside the country. It is intended to offset the Taliban’s ability to shut down the official Afghan services, seemingly at will.

A flashed NanoStation with OpenWRT ($79) or Power Cloud managed hotspots are good to go. Just add blimp. See Dailywireless: FabFi: Cell Network in a Suitcase

NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin tweeted an astounding 1,201 times from Tripoli last weekend.

Carvin sends hundreds of tweets a day that, taken together, paint a real-time picture of events.

iPhones or Android devices now come with multi-gigahertz processors, 3D cameras, motion sensing and built-in GPS. They make real-time, world-wide reportage possible.

Perhaps the new overseas bureau should be a hardened van equipped with a couple of microdrones and a wireless broadband connection. Putting wings or rotors on smartphones is comparatively easy.

In the United States, the FAA requires a certificate of authorization to fly UAVs in US air space. That may change as domestic police agencies and the military/industrial complex lobby for more cost/effective domestic surveillence using high throughput satellite platforms.

Homeland Security spends more money on administration than technology — but the Coast Guard’s $10 billion integraded communications system (C4ISR) still doesn’t work after whopping budget increases, says the GAO (pdf).

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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