Exclusive: Europe braces for mobile network outage

PARIS / STOCKHOLM / MILAN (Reuters) – Cell phones would be unimaginable in Europe this winter if blackouts or power rationing disrupted parts of mobile phone networks across the region.

Russia’s decision to halt gas supplies through Europe’s main supply route in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine has increased the chances of an energy shortage. In France, the situation has been made worse by the closure of many nuclear power plants for maintenance purposes.

Telecom industry officials say they fear a harsh winter could put Europe’s telecom infrastructure on the line, forcing companies and governments to try to mitigate the impact.

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Four telecoms executives said there are currently not enough backup systems in many European countries to deal with widespread power outages, raising the possibility of mobile phone outages.

European Union countries, including France, Sweden and Germany, are trying to ensure communications continue even if the blackout ends with the spare batteries installed on the thousands of cellular antennas scattered across their territories exhausted.

Europe has nearly half a million telecom towers and most of them have battery backups lasting about 30 minutes to power the portable antennas.

France

Two sources familiar with the matter said the plan presented by France’s electricity distribution company Enedis includes a potential blackout of up to two hours in a worst-case scenario.

The general blackouts will only affect parts of the country on a rotational basis. The sources said that essential services such as hospitals, police and government would not be affected.

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

The French Telecom Federation (FFT), a lobby group representing Orange (ORAN.PA)Bouygues Telecom (BOUY.PA) SFR highlighted Enedis for its inability to excuse antennas from blackouts.

Endis declined to comment on the content of conversations with the government on this issue.

In a statement to Reuters, Endis said that all regular customers are treated equally in the event of exceptional outages.

It said it was able to isolate sections of the network to supply priority customers, such as hospitals, major industrial facilities and the military, and that it was up to local authorities to add telecom operators’ infrastructure to the list of priority customers.

“Maybe we will know more about this by winter, but it is not easy to isolate a portable antenna (from the rest of the network),” said a French finance ministry official familiar with the talks.

A French Finance Ministry spokesman declined to comment on talks with Enedis, communications groups and the government.

Sweden, Germany & amp; Italia

Several informed sources said that telecom companies in Sweden and Germany have raised concerns about a possible electricity shortage with their governments.

Swedish telecoms regulator PTS said it is working with telecom operators and other government agencies to find solutions. This includes talking about what will happen if electricity is rationed.

A PTS spokesperson said PTS is funding the purchase of portable gas stations and mobile base stations connected to mobile phones to deal with longer power outages.

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Italy’s telecom lobby told Reuters it wanted to exclude the mobile phone network from any blackouts or power outages and would raise this matter with the new Italian government.

Communications lobby chief Massimo Sarmi said in an interview that power outages increase the likelihood that electronic components will fail if they experience a sudden outage.

Flow of traffic

Nokia telecom equipment makers (NOKIA.HE) Ericsson (ERICb.ST) It is working with mobile operators to mitigate the impact of the power shortage, three sources familiar with the matter said.

Both companies declined to comment.

The four telecoms executives said European telecom operators should review their networks to reduce additional energy use and update their devices with more energy-efficient wireless designs.

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

Telecom operators are also working with national governments to verify plans to maintain critical services.

In Germany, Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile radio sites (towers) and its emergency mobile power systems can only support a small number of them at the same time, a company spokesperson said.

Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) Emergency mobile power systems that rely mainly on diesel will be used in the event of prolonged power outages.

France has about 62,000 mobile towers, and the industry will not be able to equip all antennas with new batteries, said Lisa Pelolo, president of the French Football Federation.

European countries have been used to uninterruptible power supplies for decades, and usually do not have generators that support power for longer periods.

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

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(Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemin in Paris, Subanta Mukherjee in Stockholm and Elvira Paulina in Milan; Additional reporting by Inti Landauro in Madrid. Editing by Matt Skovham and Jane Merriman

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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