UK mobile operators are under no obligation to provide back-up power in their base stations it has emerged, just a day after huge storms across the country caused huge mains electricity disruption and left up to 10,000 homes without power.
To secure emergency-services communication systems, the government does recommend operators provide back-up generators in call-switching centres, as well as one-hour's battery back-up 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 UK operators to provide back-up power facilities for mobile base stations," an Ofcom spokesman commented.
The situation has come to light because of a court case across the Atlantic in the United States, where mobile operators are resisting government attempts to mandate mobile back-up power supplies in base stations.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to make eight hours of back-up 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 DC, put the FCC's regulations on hold while it investigates an appeal by some US mobile operators.
But Ofcom was sanguine about the current arrangements in this country.
"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 UK has 54,251 base stations, and the emergency services use the Airwave mobile service, which is run on O2's network.
"O2 provides back-up generators for all its call-switching centres, as well as battery back-ups at each site lasting an hour," the operator said. "We also provide battery back-ups 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 US, it seems cost is the principal objection to the new FCC rules, as the US has some 210,000 cell towers and roof-mounted cell sites.
Not all US operators are opposing the regulations, though. One of the largest, Verizon Wireless, apparently installs back-up generators and batteries to its cell sites as a matter of course, and is not part of the appeal.
The US mobile operators' case against the FCC is expected to continue in May.