Although Hizballah is known for its massive Iran-funded social welfare system that provides everything from soup to education, construction materials and matchmaking services for Lebanon’s Shi’ite underclass, cell-phone service is not part of the package — except for those who join its guerrilla army.
Hell, there’s a cracking affinity-marketed MVNO opportunity in there.
One of the world’s most technically advanced and resourceful guerrilla organizations, Hizballah had some time ago installed its own, in-house dedicated fiber-optic telephone network, connecting its headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut to its offices, military posts and cadres as far south as the Israeli border. During the summer 2006 war, Israel had jammed cellphone signals throughout south Lebanon and monitored the Lebanese telephone system, but Hizballah’s internal communications channels had survived thanks to its private fiber-optic system. Since the war, however, Hizballah has expanded the network to cover its new military frontline north of the United Nations–patrolled southern border district, and into the Bekaa Valley to the east. Part of the system incorporates a WiMAX network allowing long-distance wireless access for the Internet and cell phones.
More recently, Hizballah has dug trenches for fiber-optic cables in the mainly Christian and Druze Mount Lebanon district and in north Lebanon, according to Marwan Hamade, the Lebanese minister of telecommunications. “It was confined to one or two small areas before and we overlooked it as part of their internal communications. But now it’s spread all over Lebanon,” Hamade told TIME.
We’ll have to get used to this stuff; with the falling price of fancy technology, the days when sophisticated networking was confined to the rich are gone. After all, Hezbollah isn’t the only army that’s deploying WiMAX. South Korea maintains formidable armed forces for reasons that should be obvious, and they are planning to build their entire command-and-control structure on the technology – which has plenty to do with the fact that Samsung developed most of what the world knows as IEEE802.16e Mobile WiMAX, before it was called that. The US Army bought a large quantity of WiMAX gear for evaluation. I have in the past suggested that the British Army check it out as well; we’d be fools not to, as Airspan‘s test deployment is in Stratford.
And so did Israel. If encrypting your data before hurling it over the air is good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for Hezbollah; and WiMAX is suited to a mesh network topology, where each participating node is a router, therefore simplifying the problem of deployment and increasing the system’s resilience. The basic nodes are cheap, too, considerably more so than full size GSM or UMTS base stations.
The Complex Terrain Lab reminds us that the Hezbollah TV station stayed on the air in 2006, despite the Israelis bombing it; a broadcast TV station is in radio terms the biggest target there is. It just sits there, yelling with multiple kilowatts of power in all directions, and by definition it has to be obvious to work; but they couldn’t catch it. I always wondered about that. Their satellite transponder would surely be part of the answer, but uplinking is also a noisy radio activity; one use for a secure, redundant, and private fibre loop or four would be to support a gaggle of mobile satellite TV uplinks.