Electricity problems leave Europe facing possible mobile service outages, sources say
Mobile phones could go dark across Europe in the coming months if power cuts or energy rationing disrupt parts of mobile networks in the region.
- Backup power systems for EU telecoms infrastructure not fit for protracted energy crises, say leaders
- Several European governments are negotiating with companies and energy distributors to avoid mobile phone blackouts
- Companies are trying software workarounds to ensure telecom towers can stay online for as long as possible
Russia’s decision to cut off gas supplies via Europe’s key supply route following the conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of power shortages.
In France, the situation is aggravated by the shutdown of several nuclear power plants for maintenance.
Industry officials say they fear a harsh winter could test Europe’s telecoms infrastructure, forcing companies and governments to try to mitigate the impact.
Currently, there are not enough backup systems in many European countries to deal with widespread power outages, four telecoms officials said, raising the prospect of mobile phone blackouts.
European Union countries, including France, Sweden and Germany, are trying to ensure the continuity of communications even if power cuts eventually exhaust the backup batteries installed on the thousands of cellular antennas spread over their territory.
Europe has almost half a million telecom towers, and most of them have backup batteries that last around 30 minutes to operate the mobile antennas.
France in negotiations with the distributor
In France, a plan proposed by the electricity distributor Enedis provides for power cuts of up to two hours in the worst case, said two sources familiar with the matter.
General blackouts would only affect certain parts of the country in turn. Essential services such as hospitals, police and government would not be affected, the sources said.
The French government, telecom operators and Enedis, a unit of utility EDF, held talks on the issue over the summer, the French government and the sources said.
The French Telecoms Federation (FFT), a pressure group representing Orange, Bouygues Telecom and Altice’s SFR, has shone the spotlight on Enedis for its failure to exempt antennas from blackouts.
Enedis declined to comment on the content of the discussions held with the government, instead issuing a statement to Reuters saying all regular customers were treated equally in the event of exceptional outages.
The statement said the company was able to isolate sections of the network to supply priority customers such as hospitals, key industrial facilities and the military, and that it was up to local authorities to add telecom operator infrastructure. to this list of priority customers.
“Perhaps we will improve our knowledge of this by this winter, but it is not easy to isolate a mobile antenna (from the rest of the network),” said an official from the French Ministry of Finance informed. talks.
Sweden, Germany and Italy also threatened
Telecom operators in Sweden and Germany have also raised concerns about possible power shortages with their governments, people familiar with the matter said.
Swedish telecoms regulator PTS is working with telecoms operators and other government agencies to find solutions, he said. This includes discussions about what will happen if electricity is rationed.
PTS is funding the purchase of transportable gas stations and mobile base stations that connect to cell phones to handle longer power outages, a PTS spokesperson said.
Italy’s telecoms lobby told Reuters it wanted the mobile network to be excluded from any blackouts or power saving, and would raise the issue with Italy’s new government.
Power outages increase the likelihood of electronic components failing in the event of sudden interruptions, telecommunications lobby leader Massimo Sarmi said in an interview.
Software, workarounds for ease of use
Telecoms equipment makers Nokia and Ericsson are working with mobile operators to mitigate the impact of a power shortage, three people familiar with the matter said.
Both companies declined to comment.
European telecom operators need to overhaul their networks to reduce additional power consumption and upgrade equipment to more energy-efficient radio designs, the four telecom leaders said.
To save energy, telecom companies are using software to optimize traffic flow, make towers “sleep” when not in use and turn off different frequency bands, people familiar with the matter said.
Telecom operators are also working with national governments to check whether plans are in place to maintain critical services.
In Germany, Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile radio towers and its mobile backup power systems can only support a small number of them at the same time, a company spokesperson said.
Deutsche Telekom will use mobile emergency power systems that rely primarily on diesel in the event of prolonged power outages, he said.
France has around 62,000 mobile towers and the industry will not be able to fit all antennas with new batteries, said FFT President Liza Bellulo.
Accustomed to an uninterrupted power supply for decades, European countries generally do not have backup generators for longer durations.
“We may be a bit spoiled in large parts of Europe where electricity is quite stable and good,” said a telecoms industry official.
“Investment in energy storage may have been less than in some other countries.”