Shady Russian cell phone companies are manufacturing in Ukraine. | Pro IQRA News

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McDade says this suggests that Russian forces expect to hold these areas for some time. “[In] In competitive areas, you typically don’t have two or three new operators in a place,” says McDaid. “I would also say, it’s a sign that they expect to be there for a while. These networks may also be designed for use by the Russian military, McDade says.

Since the companies emerged earlier this year, they claim to have expanded their services. Their websites list dozens of claimed locations, including shops, where people can buy SIM cards and internet access. In an online post, 7Telecom says it is hiring a recruitment manager, office administrator, sales manager, and IT specialist to work in the Kherson region.

It’s unclear how popular the networks are. Maps showing areas receiving cell phone signals cannot be verified, nor can Russian media claim that 7Telecom has more than 100,000 subscribers. A Gmail account linked to MirTelecom and 7Telecom’s efforts to recruit Kherson did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment. There are a few sporadic online posts showing posters or advertising flyers for companies, but it’s unclear how widespread they are. 7Telecom has the largest social media presence of the two, with its account on VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, having around 8,600 followers. While there are unofficial Telegram channels for both companies, linked to a firm that allows people to top up SIM cards, each has only a few dozen subscribers. (Though that hasn’t stopped people from complaining about poor connections.)

Although the extent of their presence is uncertain, both MirTelecom and 7Telecom appear to have some links to existing mobile companies, created after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its long-term occupation of the territory. have become a part of “The main Russian operators are not operating a commercial presence in this segment, and that’s what they did in Crimea,” says McDade. Russian forces set up new internet providers in Crimea and Donbass. In recent months, McDade says, existing Russian mobile providers in the Donbass have updated their coverage maps to claim that new areas of Ukraine are covered by their service.

The analysis shared with WIRED, which McDaid is scheduled to present at a conference later this month, shows that MirTelecom and 7Telecom are tied to Crimean mobile companies KrymTelecom and K-Telecom, respectively. Details posted publicly by MirTelecom and Russian media reporting also show some links. (Neither KrymTelecom nor K-Telecom responded to requests for comment.)

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