Europe plans cuts in mobile networks

Europe plans cuts in mobile networks

by Mathieu Rosemain, Supantha Mukherjee and Elvira Pollina

PARIS/STOCKHOLM/MILAN (Reuters) – In a once unimaginable situation, smartphone users could unexpectedly lose all cellular signal in parts of Europe this winter as power outages or power rationing affect parts of the network.

Russia’s cessation of gas supplies to Europe following Western sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine has fueled fears of power shortages. In France, the situation is complicated by the decommissioning of a large part of the nuclear fleet for maintenance work or corrosion problems, although RTE, the manager of the high-voltage transmission network, estimates the risk of disruption not only in extreme situations and could be avoided by slightly reducing domestic consumption.

Telecom officials fear a severe winter in Europe will test infrastructure and force governments and businesses to act.

Many European countries currently don’t have enough backup power systems to deal with widespread power outages, four telecoms officials said, which could result in outages to cellphone networks.

European Union countries, particularly France, Sweden and Germany, are working to ensure that telecommunications remain intact even when power outages eventually drain the backup batteries installed on thousands of cellular antennas spread across their territory.

Europe has almost half a million telecom masts and most are fitted with standby generators that last around half an hour.

France

A plan by the manager of the power distribution network Enedis envisages power outages lasting up to two hours in the worst case, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Under a principle of “rotating load shedding,” mentioned by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Sept. 1, such cuts would only affect specific locations in the country in turn, and essential services such as hospitals, police and administrations would be spared, the sources said.

The government, telecom operators and EDF subsidiary Enedis have been discussing the issue over the summer, the government and sources said.

The French Telecommunications Federation (FFT), which notably represents operators Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR (Altice), pointed the finger at Enedis for its inability to protect cellular antennas from potential blackouts.

Enedis refused to comment on the content of the talks with the authorities.

In a statement sent to Reuters, Enedis said all of its regular customers will be treated equally in the event of exceptional outages.

He specifies that he is able to isolate certain parts of the network to serve priority customers such as hospitals, sensitive industrial sites or the army, but it is up to the local authorities to include telecom infrastructures in the list of priority customers.

“We have until this winter to improve our knowledge of the topic, but isolating a mobile antenna from the rest of the network is not easy,” said a Treasury Department official familiar with these discussions.

A spokesman for the Treasury Department declined to comment on the talks between Enedis, the telecom operators and the government.

SWEDEN, GERMANY, ITALY

Telecom companies in Sweden and Germany have also raised concerns about possible power outages with their respective authorities, several people familiar with the matter said.

The Swedish regulator PTS is working with operators and other administrations to find solutions, she said. Among other things, what happens when electricity is rationed is discussed.

PTS funds the purchase of portable fuel stations and mobile base stations in the event of prolonged power outages, a spokesman for the agency said.

The body representing telecoms companies in Italy told Reuters it wanted the mobile network to be exempt from blackouts or rationing measures and intends to raise the issue with the future government to be formed after last Sunday’s election.

Power outages increase the risk of electronic components failing when they experience sudden interruptions, said Massimo Sarmi, the head of that advocacy group.

TRAFFIC

Network equipment makers Nokia and Ericsson are working with mobile operators to find solutions to mitigate the impact of power outages, three sources familiar with the matter said.

Both groups declined to comment on the issue.

European operators need to review the operation of their networks by limiting unnecessary power consumption and modernizing their equipment with more energy efficient designs, the four sector representatives said.

To conserve electricity, telecom companies are deploying software that optimizes traffic, puts antennas to sleep when not in use and shuts down various frequency bands, people familiar with the matter said.

Operators are also working with country-level governments to ensure plans are in place to maintain essential services.

In Germany, Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile phone masts and its emergency power systems can only cover a small part of them at the same time, said a spokesman for the group.

In the event of longer power outages, the German operator will fall back on mobile generators, which are mainly powered by diesel, he said.

France has about 62,000 cellphone antennas and the sector will not be able to fit them all with new batteries, said Liza Bellulo, president of the FFT.

“We were maybe a little complacent in much of Europe where the power supply is pretty stable and good,” said a telecoms executive. “Investment in energy storage may have been lower than in other countries.”

(Report by Mathieu Rosemain in Paris, Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm and Elvira Pollina in Milan, with Inti Landauro in Milan, French version by Bertrand Boucey, edited by Kate Entringer)

Reference: www.challenges.fr

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