TL;DR: The coming energy crisis could bring mobile Internet to a halt in many European countries. Plans are being considered to weather the storm, but Europe would likely suffer from its own success in bringing reliable electricity to its citizens.
A conjunction of power cuts and energy rationing plans could make mobile Internet unreliable and unavailable in Europe. Winter is coming and according to sources from within the industry, everybody knows the market will face a lot of issues. As a consequence of Russia’s decision to stop gas supplies via Europe’s key supply routes, both industries and governments are now scrambling to find potential solutions to the issue.
The alarms stem directly from telecom industry sources, who are fearful of the impact on the mobile infrastructure in Europe’s biggest countries. According to four unnamed telecom executives quoted by Reuters, right now there aren’t enough backup systems to account for widespread power cuts.
In Europe, there are half a million mobile towers and most of them are equipped with battery backup systems that can last up to 30 minutes. A plan devised by Enedis, a state-owned French company that manages low and medium voltage power distribution over 1,300,000 km of lines, takes into account potential power outages lasting up to two hours in worst-case scenarios.
Enedis and telecom operators had talks with the French government about the energy market over the summer, but the distribution utility was unable to spare cell towers from general blackouts. In Enedis’ plans, mobile Internet is not considered an essential service like hospital, police and government facilities where power cuts would be avoided.
In Sweden, telecom regulator PTS is trying to avoid widespread connectivity outages by financing the purchase of transportable fuel stations and mobile base stations that could work in place of unavailable cell towers to let smartphones and mobile devices connect to the Internet.
Germany’s Deutsche Telekom has 33,000 mobile radio towers to feed power to, and the company will use emergency systems relying on diesel in cases of prolonged outages. In Italy, the head of telecoms lobby Asstel Massimo Sarmi will ask the country’s new government to exclude mobile networks from any possible energy saving plan.
At this point, the situation doesn’t seem to be very clear but Europe will likely suffer from its own success in keeping the continent’s energy infrastructure efficient and reliable. One source from the telecom industry said Europe is “a bit spoiled” in that regard, so there weren’t as many investments in energy storage solutions as in other parts of the world.