Exclusive: Europe prepares for mobile network outages | Techy Kings

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PARIS/STOCKHOLM/MILAN, September 29. (Reuters) – It was once unimaginable that mobile phones could go black across Europe this winter if blackouts or power rationing knock down parts of mobile networks across the region.

Due to the conflict in Ukraine, Russia’s decision to cut off gas from a key European supply route has increased the likelihood of power shortages. In France, the situation is made worse by several nuclear power plants closed for maintenance.

Telecoms industry officials say they fear the harsh winter will test Europe’s telecommunications infrastructure, forcing companies and governments to try to mitigate the impact.

Many European countries currently do not have enough back-up systems to cope with widespread power outages, four telecoms executives said, raising the possibility of mobile phone failures.

European Union countries, including France, Sweden and Germany, are scrambling to ensure communications can continue even as blackouts drain backup batteries installed on thousands of cellular antennas spread across their territory.

There are nearly half a million telecom towers in Europe, and most of them have battery backups that run for around 30 minutes to power mobile antennas.

FRANCE

In France, the plan presented by electricity distributor Enedis calls for blackouts of up to two hours in the worst-case scenario, two sources familiar with the matter said.

A total blackout on a rotating basis would affect only some parts of the country. Essential services such as hospitals, police and government will not be affected, sources said.

The French government, telecom operators and Enedis, a unit of state-controlled utility EDF ( EDF.PA ), held talks over the summer over the issue, the French government and sources said.

The French Telecommunications Federation (FFT), a lobby group representing Orange ( ORAN.PA ), Bouygues Telecom ( BOUY.PA ) and Altice’s SFR, has targeted Enedis for failing to exempt antennas from power outage.

Enedis refused to comment on the content of the negotiations with the government.

Enedis said in a statement to Reuters that in the case of exceptional outages, all regular customers were treated equally.

It said it could isolate parts of the network to serve priority customers such as hospitals, major industrial facilities and the military, and that local authorities must include the infrastructure of telecommunications operators on the list of priority customers.

“Maybe we will improve our knowledge on this by this winter, but it is not easy to separate the mobile antenna (from the rest of the network),” said one French finance ministry official with knowledge of the talks.

A spokesman for France’s finance ministry declined to comment on the talks with Enedis, the telecoms groups and the government.

SWEDEN, GERMANY & ITALY

Swedish and German telecommunications companies have also expressed concern about potential power shortages for their governments, said several sources familiar with the matter.

Sweden’s telecoms regulator PTS is working with telecoms operators and other government agencies to find solutions. This includes talk about what will happen if electricity is rationed.

PTS is funding the purchase of portable gas stations and mobile base stations that connect to cellphones to deal with longer power outages, a PTS spokesman said.

Italy’s telecoms lobby told Reuters it wanted the mobile network exempt from any blackouts or power-saving shutdowns and would raise the issue with Italy’s new government.

Power outages make electronic components more likely to fail if they suddenly go out, Massimo Sarmi, head of telecommunications lobbying, said in an interview.

TRAFFIC FLOW

Telecoms equipment makers Nokia ( NOKIA.HE ) and Ericsson ( ERICb.ST ) are working with mobile operators to mitigate the impact of power shortages, three sources familiar with the matter said.

Both companies declined to comment.

European telecoms operators need to review their networks to cut extra energy consumption and modernize their equipment with more efficient radio links, four telecom executives said.

To save energy, telecom companies use software to optimize traffic flow, put towers to “sleep” when not in use and turn off different spectrum bands, sources familiar with the matter said.

Telecoms operators are also working with national governments to check plans to maintain critical services.

Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile radio stations (towers) in Germany, and its mobile emergency power systems can support only a small number at a time, a company spokesman said.

Deutsche Telekom ( DTEGn.DE ) will use mobile emergency power systems that rely mainly on diesel for long-term power outages.

France has about 62,000 cell towers, and the industry won’t be able to equip all antennas with new batteries, said FFT president Liza Bellulo.

After decades of being used to an uninterruptible power supply, European countries generally do not have generators to supply backup power for extended periods of time.

“We are a bit spoiled, perhaps in large parts of Europe where electricity is quite stable and good,” said a telecoms industry executive. “Investments in energy storage have perhaps been lower than in some other countries.

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain in Paris, Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm and Elvira Pollina in Milan; Additional reporting by Inti Landauro in Madrid; Edited by Matt Scuffham and Jane Merriman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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