Power Cuts, Rationing Could Hit Europe’s Mobile Network This Winter

Mobile networks across Europe could stop working this winter, affected by possible power cuts or rationing. Moscow’s decision to halt gas supplies to Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent Western sanctions has increased the chances of power shortages across the continent. In France, the situation has become even worse after several nuclear plants have shut down for maintenance. Telecommunications industry officials say they fear a harsh winter could put their infrastructure in jeopardy, forcing the industry and the government try to mitigate the impact.

The fact that there are not enough back up systems currently in many European nations to handle widespread power cuts raises the possibility of mobile phone outages.

Some European Union states, including Germany, France and Sweden, are trying to ensure communications can continue even in the event of power cuts end up exhausting back-up batteries installed on the thousands of cellular antennas spread across their territory.

Europe has nearly half a million telecom towers and most of them have battery backups that last around 30 minutes to run the mobile antennas.

In France, electricity distributor Enedis has put forward a plan, which includes potential power cuts of up to two hours as a worst case scenario.

The general black-outs would affect only parts of the country on a rotating basis. Essential services such as hospitals, police and government will not be impacted.

The French government, telecoms operators and Enedis have held talks on the issue over the summer, the French government said.

Enedis said it was able to isolate sections of the network to supply priority customers, such as hospitals, key industrial installations and the military and that it was up to local authorities to add telecoms operators infrastructure to the list of priority customers.

Telcos in Sweden and Germany have also raised concerns over potential electricity shortages with their governments.

Swedish telecom regulator PTS has been discussing with telecom operators and other government agencies to find solutions, it said. That includes talks about what will happen if electricity is rationed.

PTS is financing the purchase of transportable fuel stations and mobile base stations that connect to mobile phones to handle longer power outages.

The Italian telecoms said it would talk with the government to exclude the mobile network from any power cut or energy saving stoppage. The lobby group added that power outages would increase the likelihood of electronic components failing if subjected to abrupt interruptions.

Telecom equipment manufacturers Ericsson and Nokia are also working with mobile operators to mitigate the impact of possible power shortages.

The European telecom operators may review their networks to reduce extra power usage and modernize their equipment by using more power efficient radio designs.

To save power, telecom companies are using software to optimize traffic flow, make towers “sleep” when not in use and switch off different spectrum bands.

The telecom operators are also working with national governments to check if plans are in place to maintain critical services.

Meanwhile in Germany, Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile towers, but the company’s mobile emergency power systems can only support a small number of them at the same time. In the event of prolonged power outages, the company plans to use mobile emergency power systems that mainly rely on diesel.

France has about 62,000 mobile towers, and the industry will not be able to equip all antennas with new batteries.

Accustomed to uninterrupted power supply for decades, European countries usually do not have generators backing up power for longer durations.

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