Strengthening the resilience of telecommunications networks is the goal of the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA). According to a strategy paper available to heise online, the authority would like to establish “regulations for emergency power supply” so that basic services such as emergency calls and the receipt of warning messages also work in the event of a power failure.
However, not every single transmitter will have to have emergency power technology. Coverage is key, which could be improved by stronger signals at lower frequencies in the event of a disaster.
Solar cells plus batteries instead of diesel
Currently, emergency power generators with fossil fuels are usually used to bridge power failures. In order to minimize dependency on fuel supply, cell phone transmitters could be equipped with batteries and photovoltaic modules in the future. To do this, however, electricity consumption would have to be significantly reduced in the event of a crisis, for example through lower network capacity and a focus on limited services. However, the idea of saving electricity is skewered with increased transmission power for more range.
According to the experts, better resilience would also help if connection points between mobile and fixed networks with fiber optics were set up as a preventative measure and allowed alternative routes in the event of a disaster. Another possibility is the connection of individual locations via provisional radio links. There is also geo- and media redundancy with parallel infrastructures, increased property protection, better attack detection, more and new, quantum-secured encryption and more backups.
The BNetzA brings satellite technology into play as a “further secure solution”. Modern relevant mega-constellations like Starlink, OneWeb or Amazon Kuiper “could not be destroyed quickly”. Even if one of these earth satellites failed, “the communication still works”. The modest capacities of the satellite networks would also require a focus on basic services.
New danger situation
The document sees various risk scenarios: Natural disasters that have become more frequent due to climate change, the corona pandemic or the changing geopolitical situation have made the importance of relevant services clear and their vulnerability demonstrated. The networks must now be prepared for further extreme situations such as widespread disruption to the energy supply, economic difficulties and unrest, pandemics, sabotage, attacks, armed conflicts, nuclear explosions and “cyber attacks that go beyond the normal level”.
Network operators and authorities should set up a joint situation center, carry out joint exercises and communicate with each other in encrypted form. There is also talk of priority in the energy supply, analysis of weaknesses in interfaces and better training.
Germany’s strategy against disasters
The document is primarily aimed at the Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport. It will probably be included in the draft of a “German strategy to strengthen resilience to disasters” that the ministry is currently working on. This is already on the Federal Cabinet’s schedule for Wednesday.
In view of the approaching anniversary of the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley, Frederic Ufer, Managing Director of the VATM industry association, welcomed the regulator’s commitment on Thursday. In addition to mobile switching centers and base stations, microwave and satellite technology also played a major role in strengthening resilience. It must be about their best possible use, “not about more regulations”.
Above all, the industry fears behind closed doors that it will be stuck with the costs for additional emergency power supply. The BNetzA also did not assess the necessity and appropriateness of the individual measures, according to the criticism. She also does not sufficiently address the fact that the availability of the networks is currently very high. The BNetzA itself admits that “considerable costs” are likely to be incurred for the measures “that cannot be borne by the network operators alone”.
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