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Telecom, mobile communication, and Internet during martial law in Ukraine

Modern wars have extended the scale of hostilities to the digital space, which has become an important field of confrontation in the battle for consciousness and perception. In this perspective, maintaining regular communication to provide reliable and up-to-date information and protecting the public from disinformation are becoming of the utmost importance.

In this overview, Sayenko Kharenko suggests a brief overview of the current situation in the field of communications:

  • Since Russia has begun an invasion of Ukraine, perhaps the largest number of fakes has been about communications. One of the most common fakes is about disabling or blocking mobile communications and the Internet. On the morning of 24 February 2022, the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine (“State Special Communications Service”) reported disinformation in this regard. Similar messages often appear; however, such information is refuted each time. Mobile operators have assured the public that network flexibility, cybersecurity, and other elements should make it possible to maintain communications even during hostilities.
  • Possible jamming of communications by the Russian occupation forces in the frontline zone has been reported. However, this information was also
  • Restrictions on communication may be imposed by the Ukrainian Government. However, this option is unlikely as it will likely give rise to panic among the population. According to the Security Service of Ukraine, small-scale disconnection is possible for operations to combat sabotage and reconnaissance groups.
  • Representatives of telecom operators say that one of the main problems may be the power supply and network damage. Due to the large volume of decentralised commercial telecom infrastructure, the extent of such damage should be significant to cause severe disruptions. On 2 March 2022, one of the largest mobile operators, Kyivstar, reported nearly 500 base stations as disabled. Nevertheless, restoration of network facilities, including in combat areas, is underway. Although objects of critical information infrastructure have not suffered significant damage to date, communication problems are observed in active combat areas.
  • The largest mobile operators Kyivstar, lifecell and Vodafone support their subscribers. They facilitate access to their services and provide the opportunity to communicate without replenishing the account or deferring payments. It was also announced that some mobile operators offer free roaming in Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Poland, and Slovakia.
  • At the same time, mobile operators blocked access to mobile communications for subscribers of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. On 3 March 2022, the State Special Communications Service also reported that outgoing calls to Russian and Belarusian operators had been blocked. The activation of newly purchased SIM cards was limited.
  • On 7 March 2022, the State Special Communications Service announced the launch of testing for national roaming in Ukraine. This will allow users to switch between operators: if the operator’s network has disappeared, one can use the network of another. Currently, national roaming is being offered in the combat zone (Kharkiv, Kherson, Sumy, Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kirovohrad, Mykolaiv regions). Then it will be rolled out in Chernihiv, Zhytomyr, Cherkasy and Vinnytsia regions, and later on – throughout Ukraine. The test phase of national roaming is launched by Vodafone, Kyivstar and lifecell operators together with the State Special Communications Service, the Ministry of Digital Transformation, and other government agencies.
  • Satellite communication was considered as an alternative in case of internet disconnection. In particular, Elon Musk provided Starlink satellite internet stations that do not require traditional network infrastructure to connect. As planned, this should improve Internet access in offline locations. However, it is unclear whether this will have a real impact on the situation in the country in the near future. It is unclear how many stations were delivered and where and how they will be deployed. Moreover, there are issues regarding the power supply of the provided stations and the price of this service. At present, assistance from Musk can serve as a longer-term perspective for the development of the telecom infrastructure in Ukraine.
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