PARIS/STOCKHOLM/MILAN, Sept 29 (Reuters) – Once unthinkable, mobile phones could die out this winter in Europe if power cuts or energy rationing disrupt parts of mobile networks in the region.
Russia’s decision to cut off gas supplies via Europe’s key supply route following the conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of power shortages. In France, the situation is aggravated by the shutdown of several nuclear power plants for maintenance.
Telecoms industry officials say they fear a harsh winter could test Europe’s telecoms infrastructure, forcing companies and governments to try to mitigate the impact.
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Currently, there are not enough backup systems in many European countries to deal with widespread power outages, four telecommunications officials said, citing the possibility of mobile phone blackouts.
European Union countries, including France, Sweden and Germany, are trying to ensure the continuity of communications even if power cuts eventually exhaust the backup batteries installed on the thousands of cellular antennas spread over their territory.
Europe has almost half a million telecommunications towers and most of them have backup batteries that last around 30 minutes to operate the mobile antennas.
In France, a plan proposed by the electricity distributor Enedis provides for power cuts of up to two hours in the worst case, two sources familiar with the matter said.
General blackouts would only affect certain parts of the country in turn. Essential services such as hospitals, police and government will not be affected, the sources said.
The French government, telecom operators and Enedis, a unit of utility EDF (EDF.PA), held discussions on the matter over the summer, the French government and the sources said.
The French Telecoms Federation (FFT), a pressure group representing Orange (ORAN.PA), Bouygues Telecom (BOUY.PA) and Altice’s SFR, has shone the spotlight on Enedis for its failure to exempt antennas from blackouts. running.
Enedis declined to comment on the content of the discussions held with the government on this subject.
Enedis said in a statement to Reuters that all regular customers were treated equally in the event of exceptional outages.
He said he was able to isolate sections of the network to supply priority customers, such as hospitals, key industrial facilities and the military and that it was up to local authorities to add operator infrastructure telecommunications to the list of priority customers.
“Maybe we will improve our knowledge on the subject by this winter, but it is not easy to isolate a mobile antenna (from the rest of the network),” said an official from the French Ministry of Finance informed. talks.
A spokesperson for the French finance ministry declined to comment on talks with Enedis, telecoms groups and the government.
SWEDEN, GERMANY & ITALY
Telecom operators in Sweden and Germany have also raised concerns about possible power shortages with their governments, several sources familiar with the matter said.
Swedish telecoms regulator PTS is working with telecoms operators and other government agencies to find solutions, he said. This includes discussions about what will happen if electricity is rationed.
PTS is funding the purchase of transportable gas stations and mobile base stations that connect to cell phones to handle longer power outages, a PTS spokesperson said.
Italy’s telecoms lobby has told Reuters it wants the mobile network to be excluded from any blackouts or power saving and will raise the issue with Italy’s new government.
Power outages increase the likelihood of electronic components failing in the event of sudden interruptions, telecommunications lobby leader Massimo Sarmi said in an interview.
Telecoms equipment makers Nokia (NOKIA.HE) and Ericsson (ERICb.ST) are working with mobile operators to mitigate the impact of a power shortage, three people familiar with the matter said.
Both companies declined to comment.
European telecom operators need to overhaul their networks to reduce additional power consumption and upgrade equipment to more energy-efficient radio designs, the four telecom leaders said.
To save energy, telecom companies are using software to optimize traffic flow, make towers “sleep” when not in use and turn off different frequency bands, people familiar with the matter said.
Telecom operators are also working with national governments to check whether plans are in place to maintain critical services.
In Germany, Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile radio sites (towers) and its mobile backup power systems can only support a small number at the same time, a company spokesperson said.
Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) will use mobile emergency power systems that rely primarily on diesel in the event of prolonged power outages, he said.
France has around 62,000 mobile towers and the industry will not be able to fit all antennas with new batteries, said FFT President Liza Bellulo.
Accustomed to an uninterrupted power supply for decades, European countries generally do not have backup generators for longer durations.
“We may be a bit spoiled in large parts of Europe where electricity is quite stable and good,” said a telecoms industry official. “Investment in energy storage may have been less than in some other countries.”
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Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain in Paris, Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm and Elvira Pollina in Milan; Additional reporting by Inti Landauro in Madrid; Editing by Matt Scuffham and Jane Merriman
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