Libyan Rebels Create Their Own Mobile Phone Network

There's a pretty amazing story in today's WSJ about how a Libyan telecom executive living in Abu Dhabi divided a section of the national cell phone network from the whole, reopening mobile access for the rebels:

While cellphones haven't given rebel fighters the military strength to decisively drive Col. Gadhafi from power, the network has enabled rebel leaders to more easily make the calls needed to rally international backing, source weapons and strategize with their envoys abroad.

To make that possible, engineeers 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.

Ousama Abushagur, a 31-year-old Libyan telecom executive raised in Huntsville, Ala., masterminded the operation from his home in Abu Dhabi.

Before the new network came online, Libyan rebels had been using color flags to send messages on the battlefield. Abushagur's plan only came together with support from a number of the gulf states and the technical expertise of three Libyan telecom engineers and four western engineers.

Another interesting angle in this:

The Chinese company Huawei Technologies Ltd., one of the original contractors for Libyana's cellular network backbone, refused to sell equipment for the rebel project, causing Mr. Abushagur and his engineer buddies to scramble to find a hybrid technical solution to match other companies' hardware with the existing Libyan network. Huawei declined to comment on its customers or work in Libya.