Paris, Stockholm, Milan mobile phone users may be able to look at a blank screen more often this winter. According to experts, Europe’s mobile network could be down at least temporarily in the event of power outages as a result of the energy crisis. Even though the smartphones themselves are powered by batteries and can withstand power outages lasting several hours, the transmission towers constantly need energy – and this is scarce in winter, given the Russian gas supplies failing and the shutdowns at some French nuclear power plants.
Industry representatives point out that at present the emergency systems in many European countries were not sufficient to continue to provide a connection in the event of large-scale power outages.
This means that the ball is in the hands of companies and governments to ensure at least emergency care. Several countries, including Germany, France and Sweden, are currently working on a plan on how to maintain the communication network even in the event of a power outage. Because many of the almost half a million cell towers have an emergency battery, but this is usually not enough for more than about half an hour.
The industry is therefore sounding the alarm and is campaigning to exclude mobile communications infrastructure from possible network shutdowns. In France, for example, the power grid could be shut down regionally for up to two hours in the event of an overload, and critical infrastructure such as hospitals or police stations should be excluded.
In the summer, there were talks between the government, the mobile phone companies and the French network operator Enedis, which belongs to the state-controlled utility EDF. Enedis did not comment on the content of the talks.
Mobile phone companies also worried in Sweden and Germany
It is up to the local authorities to determine who is among the preferred electricity customers. “Maybe we’ll know more in the winter, but it’s not easy to isolate a cell tower from the rest of the power grid,” said an insider from the French Finance Ministry. The ministry itself declined to comment.
Mobile phone companies in Sweden and Germany have also voiced their concerns to the government, several insiders said. Swedish telecoms regulator PTS is helping to buy mobile base stations, among other things, which can provide connections in the event of prolonged power outages, a spokesman said.
Telekom relies on mobile diesel generators
In addition, there are energy saving measures of the telecom companies themselves. They would have to check their network to detect power guzzlers and put more energy-efficient equipment into operation, the industry said. Saving electricity is possible, for example, with a software that optimizes the data connections and puts individual masts into sleep mode when they are not needed.
Another option is emergency generators. Deutsche Telekom relies on mobile diesel generators to keep radio masts in operation. However, only a small part of the total of around 33,000 radio masts can be supplied with it at the same time, the company limited.