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Cellular Network during Conflict

This is a discussion on Cellular Network during Conflict within the Network Security forum, part of the Global Defense & Military category; I believe that a Cellular Tower (CT) has back-up batteries and generators when electricity is intermittent or nonexistent. Assuming that ...


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Old October 6th, 2017   #1
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Cellular Network during Conflict

I believe that a Cellular Tower (CT) has back-up batteries and generators when electricity is intermittent or nonexistent.

Assuming that CT’s are maintained and fuel is available for the generators they could remain operational indefinitely without electricity.

What I would like to examine is Cellular Providers (CP’s) and state influence on CP’s, and how that influences availability to a network. More specifically, how areas outside of state control still have use of a cell network, Syria as example.

I exclude, for now, technology that blocks cellular reception.

Your input would be much appreciated.

Last edited by Boer Kommando; October 6th, 2017 at 05:06 PM.
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Old October 6th, 2017   #2
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I believe that a Cellular Tower (CT) has back-up batteries and generators when electricity is intermittent or nonexistent.

Assuming that CT’s are maintained and fuel is available for the generators they could remain operational indefinitely without electricity.

What I would like to examine is Cellular Providers (CP’s) and state influence on CP’s, and how that influences availability to a network. More specifically, how areas outside of state control still have use of a cell network, Syria as example.

I exclude, for now, technology that blocks cellular reception.

Your input would be much appreciated.

(This subject did not seem to fit the regular sections so I post it here. Admin, you are welcome to move it.)
Honestly, having a discussion on cellular networks, especially in a conflict area, is likely to be quite difficult.

The reason I say this, is because while the basic technology and setup might be common over much of the world, the specific details can vary between providers. Without knowing the details of a provider's infrastructure configuration, it can then become quite difficult to determine what are strong and weak points to a particular provider's network.

Using Syria as an example, there is (or should be) some sort of infrastructure linking the various cell towers to the providers, but I have NFI whether the links are trunked lines, some sort of RF or LOS laser transmission, or utilizing SATCOMM or a combination of the above. There should also be some sort of NOC (network operations centre) which monitors and controls the towers, as well as the communications to the towers. Depending on configuration, there should also be some sort of call routing/switching system, which might be co-located with the NOC.

As for how long a cell tower can operate, they cannot operate indefinitely without regular and ongoing maintenance and resupply. I cannot speak for towers in Syria, but most US cell towers can function for 72-96 hours without grid power. After that, the generators need to be refueled, and/or the battery bank is drained and has to be recharged. In some areas in the US, there has been movement towards multiple back power systems, like a solar array/battery bank and diesel generators. That also looks like a potential solution to permit erecting cell towers in more remote areas where connecting to the closest electrical grid is prohibitively expensive.
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Old October 6th, 2017   #3
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Honestly, having a discussion on cellular networks, especially in a conflict area, is likely to be quite difficult.

The reason I say this, is because while the basic technology and setup might be common over much of the world, the specific details can vary between providers. Without knowing the details of a provider's infrastructure configuration, it can then become quite difficult to determine what are strong and weak points to a particular provider's network.

Using Syria as an example, there is (or should be) some sort of infrastructure linking the various cell towers to the providers, but I have NFI whether the links are trunked lines, some sort of RF or LOS laser transmission, or utilizing SATCOMM or a combination of the above. There should also be some sort of NOC (network operations centre) which monitors and controls the towers, as well as the communications to the towers. Depending on configuration, there should also be some sort of call routing/switching system, which might be co-located with the NOC.

As for how long a cell tower can operate, they cannot operate indefinitely without regular and ongoing maintenance and resupply. I cannot speak for towers in Syria, but most US cell towers can function for 72-96 hours without grid power. After that, the generators need to be refueled, and/or the battery bank is drained and has to be recharged. In some areas in the US, there has been movement towards multiple back power systems, like a solar array/battery bank and diesel generators. That also looks like a potential solution to permit erecting cell towers in more remote areas where connecting to the closest electrical grid is prohibitively expensive.
Thank you, TodJaeger

I said that With maintenance and fuel they can operate indefinitely. By this I mean “technically indefinitely”, not perhaps in practicality since the amount of specialists and equipment and fuel might not be available.

In South Africa we have extended periods without power and rarely do CT’s go off line because of this (batteries and generators). However, some do go off line, but that is because of theft of infrastructure.

The question remains regarding the relationship between the state and the CP’s, or the state’s capacity to control the CP’s. As you pointed out that would wholly depend on which country we discussing.

In SA all our CP’s are local and to a large extent reliant on the state.

I agree that we cannot possibly discuss this generally. So let’s use Syria as example. We know that the Syrian government would naturally have a tight hold on CP’s pre war. So what happened when things kicked off? ... with cellular providers? How do the rebels (rebel areas) still use cell phones? That is the crux.
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Old October 6th, 2017   #4
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One possibility is hacking the infrastructure to create your own "CP". That, however, takes time. In Syria, from the very beginning, cell phones were used ubiquitously.
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Old October 6th, 2017   #5
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I agree that we cannot possibly discuss this generally. So let’s use Syria as example. We know that the Syrian government would naturally have a tight hold on CP’s pre war. So what happened when things kicked off? ... with cellular providers? How do the rebels (rebel areas) still use cell phones? That is the crux.
Actually I meant that we can only realistically discuss this in generalities, unless there are people here on DT who are knowledgeable about Syria's (or another discussed country's) specific telecom infrastructure.

Specifically for Syria, it would be good to know how many NOC's there are, where they are, and who controls them. Related to that, is how many switching/routing facilities there are, where they are, and who controls them.

Then there is the question of what sort of links exist between the cell towers and other telecom infrastructure, and if the links are physical (like trunked hardlines) who controls the territory where those lines are run.

Also, so far all of the discussion has been just about who is in physical control of infrastructure. Due to the nature of cellular networks, towers are under remote/automated control so there is also a cyber element in that a tower could be physically controlled by one side, by electronically controlled by another.

More basically, if a group just has physical control of a specific cell tower, and nothing else, there is basically no benefit to them and little they could do with it apart from looting it for parts and supplies.
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Old October 6th, 2017   #6
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Actually I meant that we can only realistically discuss this in generalities, unless there are people here on DT who are knowledgeable about Syria's (or another discussed country's) specific telecom infrastructure.

Specifically for Syria, it would be good to know how many NOC's there are, where they are, and who controls them. Related to that, is how many switching/routing facilities there are, where they are, and who controls them.

Then there is the question of what sort of links exist between the cell towers and other telecom infrastructure, and if the links are physical (like trunked hardlines) who controls the territory where those lines are run.

Also, so far all of the discussion has been just about who is in physical control of infrastructure. Due to the nature of cellular networks, towers are under remote/automated control so there is also a cyber element in that a tower could be physically controlled by one side, by electronically controlled by another.

More basically, if a group just has physical control of a specific cell tower, and nothing else, there is basically no benefit to them and little they could do with it apart from looting it for parts and supplies.

Ideally somebody on DT knowledgeable regarding Syria and their Cellular Networks, or second best, a link to a paper/study.

I am just as interested in timeline. On Jan 1... by Dec 15...
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Old October 12th, 2017   #7
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Since my last post we had big storms up in Gauteng province (even worse in Durban), and it provided me with some timely insight.

To put this in perspective: Gauteng is our smallest and most developed province in SA. It has the largest city (Johannesburg) and our capital (Pretoria) - they are 70km apart.

From the article referenced below: "Most of our transmission network and radio networks are equipped with battery back-up and in some cases mobile generators... these are short-term solutions "

So not all have back up batteries and they have mobile generators (not fixed generators).

The "mobile generators" is perhaps of most significance. So if the grid goes down longer than those sites with batteries they can only power a portion of the network with the mobile generators.

This leaves me with many many questions, like how long the batteries last? But one conclusion I can reach, given that this is Africa, is that cell reception seems to be very vulnerable.

If you happen to know anything about the subject please do post.

https://businesstech.co.za/news/mobi...-joburg-storm/
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