War experience: How Ukrainian operators learned to quickly restore mobile and Internet communication

Ukrainian communication operators and Internet service providers have already learned to quickly restore mobile communication and the Internet after the destruction caused by the aggressive Russian regime. It’s no secret that Russian troops employ barbaric methods. Telecommunications are deliberately destroyed to establish Russian communication networks in the occupied territories and direct the flow of Russian propaganda there.

According to the World Bank’s estimation, the losses in Ukraine’s telecommunications market during a year of full-scale war reached 2.3 billion dollars. Despite such a staggering amount of losses for just one sector of the economy, communication did not disappear, and this is a result of its decentralization and the presence of not only major operators but also thousands of local providers who promptly repair their networks.

That’s why millions of subscribers remain connected and have prompt access to the Internet. And after massive power outages, the operators installed generators and uninterruptible power supplies to ensure that this problem did not interfere with their ability to stay connected.

Generators and Starlink satellite Internet stations

Timely connection to the Starlink satellite communication system from the American company SpaceX played a significant role. Thousands of Starlink terminals were quickly supplied, which were used not only for military purposes but also for restoring communication in affected areas. By the way, the first batch of Starlink satellite Internet stations arrived in Ukraine on March 1, 2022, just four days after the full-scale war.

At the request of Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, the owner of SpaceX, Elon Musk, responded quickly, and his team made necessary adjustments to the equipment. On March 4, developers already updated the software to reduce energy consumption so that Starlink could be powered by a car cigarette lighter.

It’s worth noting that immediately after the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the State Emergency Service enter the liberated territories, telecom repair teams were dispatched. While restoring communication and the Internet, these people face many difficulties, ranging from shelling and power outages to completely destroyed infrastructure, towers, and equipment.

But even starting the process of restoring communication is not easy. It can only happen after demining and obtaining permission from the military. In addition, generators are needed for uninterrupted operation of the base stations, and fuel is required for them. According to Lifecell’s (third largest Ukrainian mobile telephone network operator) estimates, approximately 60 liters of gasoline or diesel fuel is needed per generator per day, and obtaining fuel in liberated regions is usually challenging.

Satellite terminals, specifically the Starlink terminals, have always been invaluable for swift communication restoration. Furthermore, starting from November, public Wi-Fi hotspots were set up in case of complete power outages. Tesla Powerwall batteries and Starlink terminals were used for this purpose.

“Ukraine has become a testing ground for the latest technologies. There are currently 42,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine. This is the largest number of terminals for a single country in the world. And thanks to this initiative, practically all of us can stay connected,” says Yuriy Matsyk, the Director of the Fixed Internet Development Department at the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine.

See also: Who will rebuild Ukraine? What does the arrival of the world’s largest investor mean?

As of today, operators have restored over 1,700 base stations on the liberated territories, and residents of more than 500 settlements are connected again. Mobile networks are operational at a rate of 91%. Additionally, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) has passed Law No. 2078-IX, which simplifies and expedites the construction of mobile communication towers.

In the air or underground?

The Russian army not only physically destroys infrastructure by damaging towers and stealing equipment but also causes significant damage to the infrastructure in the front-line areas during artillery shelling.

Dmytro Samsonenko, the head of the service provider company Osnova-TV from Chernihiv had its network completely destroyed. Today, the network has been restored by laying 100 km of optical cables from scratch. During blackouts, they began connecting fiber optics directly to apartments, and generators were installed at network nodes.

According to his words, fortunately, none of the bombings damaged the underground channels of Ukrtelecom (Ukraine’s monopolist telephone company). However, all the aerial lines were completely destroyed.

“If you approach a tree, you see that all the branches are cut off. And even if the communication line appears to be intact and normal, a similar situation occurs there. For example, out of four fibers, only two survived,” says Dmytro Samsonenko.

Therefore, if there were artillery shelling, it should be understood that all the aerial communication lines will need to be rebuilt.

“A rocket landed… Two hours later, and we restored a certain optical section. However, repairing the underground infrastructure takes more time,” explains Mykola Kucheruk, the head of Elite-Line company in Kramatorsk, which rapidly restores internet service in a city that is constantly targeted by Russian rockets.

After the start of the full-scale aggression, the company decided that there should be at least two server rooms, and these rooms should be located underground rather than on a floor of a high-rise building. The Internet service provider should have multiple backbone channels so that the Internet does not go offline in case one or two connections are damaged.

At the same time, it is necessary to reduce the human factor since there may not be enough personnel physically available for repair work. All equipment should operate in autonomous mode, and generators should turn on automatically in case of power outages.

Regarding cables, they are indeed more secure if they are buried underground. However, there are nuances to consider, such as the lengthy process of obtaining approvals for laying underground lines, which can take years. For example, Elite-Line has been laying underground cables this year and last year, but the process was approved back in 2020.

“The bureaucratic machine, unfortunately, does not allow for the rapid deployment of underground optical networks,” emphasizes Mykola Kucheruk.

Certainly, simplifying the construction of new underground networks in the liberated territories is a logical step. The Ministry of Digital Transformation has announced the launch of a pilot project in collaboration with Nokia, aiming to upgrade telecommunications equipment and transition to energy-independent Internet networks. These networks will be better protected against shelling and power outages.

There are plans to lay cables underground within the project, which will be deployed in Posad-Pokrovsk, Kherson region, where all networks have been destroyed by Russian shelling and bombardments.

Originally posted by German Bogapov on Zn.ua. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Sophie Lambroschini: “The destruction of critical infrastructure, in a sense, equals the destruction of civilization”

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