Daily Management Review

Europe Is Bracing For Mobile Network Outages


Europe Is Bracing For Mobile Network Outages
Once unimaginable, mobile phones could go pitch black throughout Europe this winter if power failures or energy rationing blow out components of the region's mobile networks.
In the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict, Russia's decision to halt gas supplies via Europe's primary supply route has increased the likelihood of power outages. In France, the situation is exacerbated by the shutdown of several nuclear power plants for maintenance.
Officials in the telecoms industry are concerned that a harsh winter will put Europe's telecoms infrastructure to the test, forcing companies and governments to try to mitigate the impact.
There are currently insufficient backup systems in many European countries to handle widespread power outages, according to four telecoms executives, raising the prospect of mobile phone outages.
Countries in the European Union, including France, Sweden, and Germany, are attempting to ensure that communications can continue even if power outages deplete backup batteries installed on thousands of cellular antennas spread across their territory.
Europe has nearly 500,000 telecom towers, and the majority of them have battery backups that last about 30 minutes to power the mobile antennas.
In France, a plan proposed by electricity distributor Enedis includes potential power outages of up to two hours in the worst-case scenario, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
The general blackouts would affect only a portion of the country at a time. According to the sources, essential services such as hospitals, police, and government will be unaffected.
According to the French government and the sources, the French government, telecom operators, and Enedis, a unit of state-controlled utility EDF, held talks on the issue over the summer.
The French Federation of Telecoms (FFT), a lobbying group representing Orange, Bouygues Telecom, and Altice's SFR, criticized Enedis for failing to exempt antennas from power outages.
There were no comments on the issue available from Enedis.
In the event of an outage, Enedis said in a statement that all regular customers were treated equally. It claimed that it could isolate sections of the network to supply priority customers such as hospitals, critical industrial installations, and the military, but that it was up to local governments to add telecoms operators' infrastructure to the list of priority customers.
"Maybe we'll improve our knowledge on the matter by this winter, but it's not easy to isolate a mobile antenna (from the rest of the network)," said a French finance ministry official with knowledge of the talks.
A spokesperson for the French finance ministry declined to comment on the talks with Enedis, telecoms groups, and the government.
According to several sources familiar with the situation, telcos in Sweden and Germany have also expressed concerns to their governments about potential electricity shortages.
According to the Swedish telecom regulator PTS, it is working with telecom operators and other government agencies to find solutions. This includes discussions about what would happen if electricity was rationed.
To handle longer power outages, PTS is financing the purchase of transportable fuel stations and mobile base stations that connect to mobile phones, according to a PTS spokesperson.
The Italian telecoms lobby told Reuters that it will raise the issue with the government if the mobile network is excluded from any power outage or energy-saving shutdown.
According to telecoms lobby chief Massimo Sarmi, power outages increase the likelihood of electronic components failing when subjected to abrupt interruptions.
According to three sources familiar with the situation, telecom equipment makers Nokia and Ericsson are collaborating with mobile operators to mitigate the impact of a power outage.
According to the four telecom executives, European telecom operators must review their networks to reduce extra power usage and modernize their equipment by using more power efficient radio designs.
To save energy, telecom companies are using software to optimize traffic flow, put towers "to sleep" when not in use, and turn off different spectrum bands, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Telecom companies are also collaborating with national governments to determine whether plans are in place to maintain critical services.
According to a company spokesperson, Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile radio sites (towers) in Germany, and its mobile emergency power systems can only support a limited number of them at the same time.
In the event of prolonged power outages, Deutsche Telekom said it will use mobile emergency power systems that primarily rely on diesel.
France has approximately 62,000 mobile towers, and the industry will be unable to equip all antennas with new batteries, according to FFT president Liza Bellulo.
European countries, accustomed to uninterrupted power supply for decades, typically do not have generators to back up power for longer periods of time.
"We are a bit spoiled maybe in large parts of Europe where electricity is pretty stable and good," a telecom industry executive said. "The investments in the energy storage area have maybe been less than in some other countries."