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Power cuts could affect emergency calls in France this winter – Orange CEO

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PARIS — Emergency phone calls may not be possible in parts of France if there are prolonged power cuts this winter, the CEO of telecoms operator Orange said on Wednesday, as the country braces for energy rationing amid the war in Ukraine.

The stark warning from Christel Heydemann contrasts with the French government’s reassuring tone on the matter and highlights the challenges the telecoms industry faces in keeping mobile services running in the event of prolonged power cuts.

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“If, in a geographical area, (mobile network services) are turned off for two hours, there will be no access to the emergency number services for a while,” Heydemann told French lawmakers at a hearing in the Senate.

“It is illusory to imagine that we’ll be able to maintain service to all French people in the event of power cuts,” she said.

Telecoms industry officials told Reuters in September they feared power rationing – a possibility following a plunge in energy supplies from Russia – could knock out parts of the mobile network across Europe, forcing companies and governments to try to mitigate the impact.

Heydemann, who took over the reins at Orange in April, said the company had been running tests on its mobile network in France to evaluate and anticipate the risks of power outages.

Her comments contrast with those made by the French government.

“If there were power supply issues at a given time, there are what we call ‘resource antennas’ (that would allow) for all emergency numbers to operate,” government spokesperson Olivier Veran said on Tuesday. (Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain Editing by Josephine Mason and Mark Potter)

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