Telecoms engineers in eastern Libya have managed to outwit government moves to sever the region's communications.
The survival of a mobile phone network in eastern Libya, where the communications crackdown has driven the price of Libyana SIM cards to around $111 on the black market, is almost an accident.
Al-Madar, the country's other mobile provider, has been shut down in the east since the revolt began. Gaddafi's government in Tripoli not only ordered the General Post and Telecommunications Company to switch off access from the main offices in the capital, it also severed Libya's main "backbone" fibre optic cable, which connected eastern phone and internet networks to the main servers in the west.
The cable, which runs under water along the coast from Tobruk in the east to Ras Ajdir in the west, was cut – either physically or electronically – somewhere between the cities of Misurata and Khomas, the engineers said.
Faisal Safi, who runs telecommunications in Benghazi, said internet service will return in days [Al Jazeera]
That killed the east's access to Madar and the Libya Telecom and Technology company (LTT), the country's internet service provider.
But Libyana got lucky. Founded in 2004, eight years after Madar, it was less centralised and less beholden to the regime-controlled management in Tripoli. Best of all, engineers in Benghazi had their own HLR, or home location register.
The HLR stored subscriber information for every Libyana user. When a Libyana phone turned on and dialled a number, the HLR recognised the phone's ID and connected it to the network. Such databases are essential to a functioning mobile phone system, and Madar's were in Tripoli. Libyana had kept one in Benghazi as a back-up.
"I think Gaddafi made a mistake by leaving all that equipment here," said Faisal Safi, the local telecommunications and transport chief for Benghazi's opposition council.
Mahdawi, the top Libyana engineer in the city, worked with his team to install the HLR and configure it for use. No one had previous experience setting one up. After the team installed the hardware, Libyana service returned to the east, relayed via the existing array of antenna towers.
The engineers made mobile service free, but with Madar shut down, they experienced a surge of users, all of whom now had unlimited minutes.
The flood overwhelmed the network, and Mahdawi spent the next week at home, tweaking the system from his personal computer.