Maksym Rusov, Domain Sales Manager of Ericsson, in simple terms explained why mobile communication disappears or deteriorates during blackouts and what can be done about it.
When planning mobile communication networks, there are two fundamental physical limitations – the range of the base station and the capacity of the base station. The range of the base station is the distance at which the phone can reliably receive and transmit a signal to the base station, in real conditions it can be 500 meters or 10 km, depending on the frequency. The capacity of a base station is the total traffic that the station is able to handle, for example, hundreds of Mbps per sector of the base station. For networks that have been built for a long time, such as Ukrainian networks, the main limiting factor in rural areas is the coverage area, in cities – capacity.
What happens during blackouts? Usually, operators’ telecommunication equipment has backup power sources – batteries and generators. But generators are not everywhere, and batteries are not designed to withstand blackouts every day for 4-8 hours. Usually, backup power is necessary to eliminate local problems in a short time. Plus, we are talking about thousands of sites across the country, it is physically impossible to put generators on all of them on time. Therefore, part of the base stations is turned off.
Outside of cities, where base stations are located far from each other and from the consumer, the main limitation is the coverage area. When you turn off some of the stations, you can see that the signal level has deteriorated significantly or it has disappeared altogether. How to do this? Maksym Rusov offers to buy a modem-amplifier with an external antenna. A detailed analysis of the topic of mobile signal repeaters is available in Sergei Flash’s post.
In cities, where there are many more base stations and they are much closer to each other, is the situation during blackouts a little different? The user will either see no degradation in signal quality or see a slight degradation. At the same time, the Internet access speed may drop to unacceptably low values or it will be impossible to use the service at all. The problem is that all the subscribers around, who were served by the disconnected base stations, will reconnect to the remaining ones and the load on them will increase many times. In fact, the same total capacity, for example, 300 Mbps, you will share not with 30 other people around, but with 150. If at that moment fixed providers also shut down, these 150 people will generate much more traffic than usually In this case, a modem with an antenna will not help you at all – it solves the problem of a weak signal, not network capacity.
Unfortunately, there are not many solutions in cities – either find a fixed Internet provider that does not turn off during a blackout, or buy Starlink, perhaps sharing its cost and resources with neighbors. We remind that Mezha recently wrote about the nuances of the acquisition and personal use of the Starlink terminal in Ukraine.
What would really help city residents is to recognize the equipment of mobile operators as critical infrastructure. In this case, it would not be turned off during controlled blackouts. The editors of Mezha asked the Yasno representatives if this is possible and is waiting for an answer. But in addition to the administrative task, there is also a purely technical problem – today this equipment is usually powered by already existing networks in houses and it’s impossible not to turn it off when the entire building where it is located is turned off. In addition, network equipment consumes much more than traffic lights, which are also turned off throughout the city (while large advertising screens are not turned off – ed.).
Thanks to Maksym Rusov for a detailed account of this problem. There are solutions, but they are not for everyone. So we believe in the AFU and hope that the new western air defense will help protect our power grid.