UK base stations not required to have backup power

LONDON – Britain is recovering from huge storms that swept across the country this week which left up to 100,000 people without electricity. Many organizations such as hospitals and factories, avoided trouble thanks to backup power, but while many people rely on cellphones in emergencies, providers are under no obligation to provide backup power in their base stations.

To secure emergency-services communication systems, the British government does recommend operators provide backup generators in call-switching centers, as well as one-hour’s battery backup in base stations.

However, the precautions aren’t mandatory. “As far as we are aware, there is no requirement under the Wireless Telegraphy act for U.K. operators to provide backup power facilities for mobile base stations,” a spokesman for independent communications regulator Ofcom told Techworld.

The situation has come to light because of a court case in the United States, where mobile operators are resisting government attempts to mandate mobile backup power supplies in base stations.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to make eight hours of backup power compulsory following Hurricane Katrina, which had a devastating impact on the north-central Gulf Coast back in 2005. Not only did the hurricane cause severe loss of life and property, especially in New Orleans, it was also responsible for downing hundreds of base stations, which further hindered rescue efforts.

Last week, however, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., put the FCC’s regulations on hold while it investigates an appeal by some U.S. mobile operators.

But Ofcom was sanguine about the current arrangements in Britain. “This FCC act could be [because] in the United States there are huge swathes of the country that is remote,” the Ofcom spokesman suggested. “It could be that local communities are more dependent on base stations to connect them to the outside world.”

The U.K. has 54,251 base stations, and the emergency services use the Airwave mobile service, which is run on provider O2’s network.

“O2 provides backup generators for all its call-switching centers, as well as battery backups at each site lasting an hour,” the operator told Techworld. “We also provide battery backups for some smaller cell sites.”

O2 admitted it had cell sites out of service on Monday because of the weather, but said this was just “like all networks.”

In the U.S., it seems cost is the principal objection to the new FCC rules, as the U.S. has some 210,000 cell towers and roof-mounted cell sites.

Not all U.S. operators are opposing the regulations, though. One of the largest, Verizon Wireless, apparently installs backup generators and batteries to its cell sites as a matter of course, and is not part of the appeal.

The U.S. mobile operators’ case against the FCC is expected to continue in May.

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