ISLAMABAD: Amid a country-wide power outage, almost half of around 45,000 telecom towers were rendered inoperative by Monday evening due to lack of fuel and other technical reasons as a result telecom and internet links were cut off with most of the remote and some urban parts of Pakistan.

The power crisis starting at 7:30am led to a firefighting exercise by all four telecom operators Jazz, Telenor, Zong4G and Ufone. By 4:00pm the situation started to shift in favour of non-connectivity. “We have telephone connections of all the companies but two are not working since morning,” Ammar Yasir of D.I. Khan told Dawn.

While Nadir Abbas Baloch of Rahim Yar Khan said that the signals regularly dropped with electricity outages, and communications were possible only through SMS mainly in the second half of the day.

While the system of fixed line service provider PTCL too is dependent on electricity to transmit voice and data service. The mobile telecom signals are received and forwarded through the towers called the Radio Base Stations or the cell sites.

These cell sites operate on electricity and generators are used as backup but the average capacity of operating generators at each site is limited to a maximum duration of eight hours. Due to this reason, a digital blackout-like situation started to be visible in most of the remote areas after 4 pm.

“Our teams have been working in war conditions since morning, but there are some technical limitations because the generators needed rest too after running for long hours,” said a senior official of a telecom company.

The official added that backup power and fuel are limited to a certain time frame and not for prolonged outages, logistically managing and refuelling a large number of sites simultaneously is also a challenge.

The situation becomes difficult in hard terrains, due to weather conditions too, and sources in the industry said that up to 7,100 cell sites out of around 11,000 of Zong4G faced non-functioning, mainly because the company has a large presence in rural areas across the country.

The telecom regulator has issued a statement acknowledging that due to country-wide power outages, users may face service disruptions. “Cellular Mobile Operators have been instructed to inform their respective subscribers accordingly and to make optimal efforts for refuelling the generators on a maximum number of sites,” PTA has said.

Meanwhile, Jazz and PTCL have issued separate statements that they were making all efforts to ensure the provision of telecom services to their customers.

“Since the power breakdown early in the morning we are relying mostly on backup power supply while services are impacted in some areas,” Jazz has said.

The PTCL tweeted that the power outage had caused service degradation.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2023

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