PARIS/STOCKHOLM/MILAN, Sept. 29 (Reuters) – Once unimaginable, mobile phones could go dark across Europe this winter if power outages or energy rationing disable parts of the region’s mobile networks.
Russia’s decision to suspend gas supplies through Europe’s main supply route in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of power shortages. In France, the situation is exacerbated by the closure of several nuclear power plants for maintenance.
Telecom officials say they fear a harsh winter will put Europe’s telecom infrastructure to the test, forcing companies and governments to try to mitigate the impact.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Currently, there are not enough backup systems in many European countries to cope with widespread power outages, four telecom executives said, raising the prospect of mobile phone outages.
European Union countries, including France, Sweden and Germany, are trying to ensure communications can continue even if power outages deplete the backup batteries installed on the thousands of mobile antennas scattered across their territories.
Europe has nearly half a million telecom towers and most have battery backups that last about 30 minutes to run the mobile antennas.
In France, a plan from electricity distributor Enedis includes possible power outages of up to two hours in the worst case, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The general power outages would only affect parts of the country on a rotating basis. 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 the state-controlled utility company EDF (EDF.PA)held talks on the matter this summer, the French government and sources said.
The French Telecom Federation (FFT), a lobby group representing Orange (ORAN.PA)Bouygues Telecom (BOUY.PA) and Altice’s SFR, put Enedis in the spotlight for failing to exempt antennas from the power cuts.
Enedis declined to comment on the content of talks with the government about this.
Enedis said in a statement to Reuters that all regular customers will be treated equally in the event of exceptional outages.
It said it was able to isolate parts 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 telecom operators’ infrastructure to the list of priority. customers.
“Maybe this winter we will have improved our knowledge on this, 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 with knowledge of the talks.
A spokesman for the French Ministry of Finance declined to comment on the talks with Enedis, the telecom groups and the government.
SWEDEN, GERMANY & ITALY
Telcos in Sweden and Germany have also raised concerns about potential power shortages in their governments, according to several sources familiar with the matter.
Swedish telecoms regulator PTS is working with telecom operators and other government agencies to find solutions. That includes talks about what will happen if electricity is rationed.
PTS is funding the purchase of portable gas stations and mobile base stations that connect to cell phones to accommodate extended power outages, a PTS spokesperson said.
The Italian telecom lobby told Reuters it wants the mobile network to be barred from power outages or energy-saving interruptions and will raise the matter with Italy’s new government.
The power outages increase the chances of electronic components failing if subjected to abrupt interruptions, telecom lobby boss Massimo Sarmi said in an interview.
Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Nokia (NOKIA.HE) and Ericsson (ERICb.ST) are working with mobile operators to mitigate the impact of a power shortage, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
Both companies declined to comment.
European telecom operators should review their networks to reduce additional power consumption and modernize their equipment by adopting more energy-efficient radio designs, the four telecom managers said.
To conserve power, telecom companies are using software to optimize traffic flow, make towers “sleep” when not in use and turn off several spectrum bands, the sources familiar with the matter said.
The telecom operators are also working with national governments to verify plans to maintain critical services.
In Germany, Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile radio stations (towers) and its emergency mobile power systems can support only a small number of them at a 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, it said.
France has about 62,000 cell towers and the industry will not be able to equip all antennas with new batteries, said Liza Bellulo, president of the FFT.
European countries have been accustomed to an uninterrupted power supply for decades and usually do not have generators that support the power supply for long periods of time.
“We may be a bit spoiled in large parts of Europe, where electricity is quite stable and good,” said a telecoms industry director. “Investments in energy storage may have been less than in some other countries.”
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain in Paris, Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm and Elvira Pollina in Milan; Additional coverage by Inti Landauro in Madrid; Editing by Matt Scuffham and Jane Merriman
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.