Sunday, May 3, 2015

Will our cell phones work during a disaster?

Kathmandu Post had carried on Feb 4, 2014 an article named 
Call for sturdy telecom infrastructure
Following the earth quake in Nepal this year, it would be valuable if a study is carried out to find how the cellular telephony infrastructure of Nepal performed during the disaster.
Scientific American noted in January 2013 that India had over 400,000 base stations in its cellular telephony infrastructure. It had an admiring word for these stations coping with a massive power blackout that affected 700 million people in the country in July 2012, because they had diesel backup power.
However, the Scientific American article mentioned above reported that 3.2 billion litres of diesel fuel were consumed by the Indian telecom industry in 2011. We do not know what fraction of this goes into backup power for base stations. The biggest concern is that in the event of a major disaster such as the flooding in Uttarakhand in 2013, towers could run out of diesel fuel and that the area could be left inaccessible by phone for many days.
A Wikipedia article mentions that in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy that hit New York and New Jersey in 2012, up to 25% of mobile phone towers were powerless.   gives us hope that cell phone towers can be converted to run on solar energy and save us money and reduce pollution. However, this does not seem to be happening too fast in India. See the following report from the Economic Times of September 2013:

Less than 1% of India’s 4.4 lakh telecom towers powered by clean fuel
In view of the importance of cell phone towers, authorities concerned should have an audit carried out regarding India’s disaster-preparedness in this regard.

1 comment:

Srinivasan Ramani said...

Another example of the vulnerability of our urban life: The New Indian Express 4/12/2015 reported that the “Phone network---both mobile and fixed lines--were out of service even as ATMs did not function. Even in the few ATMs that were open, serpentine queues were witnessed” This was in the context of the very heavy rain that Chennai received during the first few days of Dec 2015.