Cell phones across Europe could go off-line this winter if power cuts or rationing take out some mobile networks across the region, Reuters wrote.
Representatives of the telecommunications industry fear that a severe winter will put Europe's telecommunications infrastructure to the test, forcing companies and governments to try to mitigate the consequences.
Currently, many European countries do not have enough backup systems to cope with massive power outages, four telecom executives said, increasing the likelihood of cell phone outages.
European Union countries, including France, Sweden and Germany, are struggling to maintain communications support even if a power outage would deplete the backup batteries installed on thousands of cellular antennas scattered across their territory.
There are nearly half a million telecommunications towers in Europe, and most of them have back-up batteries that last about 30 minutes to run mobile antennas.
In France, a plan proposed by electricity distributor Enedis calls for a potential blackout of up to two hours in a worst-case scenario, two sources said. A general blackout would affect only parts of the country on a rotating basis, excluding hospitals, police and the government.
The French government, telecom operators and Enedis, a unit of state utility EDF, negotiated the issue over the summer.
The French Federation of Telecommunications (FFT), a lobbying group representing Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR Altice, pointed out that Enedis cannot exclude antennas from power outages.
"Maybe we'll improve our knowledge on the matter by this winter, but it's not easy to isolate a mobile antenna (from the rest of the network)," said a French finance ministry official with knowledge of the talks.
Telecommunications companies in Sweden and Germany have also expressed concern about a potential power shortage, several sources familiar with the matter said.
Sweden's telecommunications regulator, PTS, is working with telecom operators and other government agencies to find solutions. PTS is funding the purchase of portable charging stations and mobile base stations that connect to cell phones to deal with prolonged power outages.
The Italian telecommunications lobby has told Reuters that it wants the mobile network to be excluded from any blackouts or power outages, and will raise the issue with the new Italian government. Power outages increase the likelihood of electronic components failing if they are subjected to sudden outages, Massimo Sarmi, head of the telecommunications lobby, said in an interview.
Telecommunications equipment makers Nokia and Ericsson are working with cell phone carriers to mitigate the effects of power shortages, the three sources said.
Both companies declined to comment. The four telecom executives said European carriers should review their networks to reduce additional power consumption and upgrade their equipment with more energy-efficient radio systems.
Telecom companies are using software to optimize traffic flow, putting towers in "sleep mode" when they are not in use, and turning off different spectrum bands.
Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile radio stations (towers) in Germany, and its mobile emergency power systems can only support a small number of them at a time, the company said. The company will use mobile emergency power systems that mainly run on diesel fuel in the event of prolonged power outages.
According to FFT President Lisa Belloulot, there are about 62,000 cell phone towers in France, and the industry will not be able to equip all antennas with new batteries.
European countries that have been accustomed to uninterrupted power supply for decades usually do not have generators.