Speaking at MWC 2023, Kyivstar’s CTO Volodymyr Lutchenko explained how Kyivstar turned to crowdsourcing energy to solve its power crisis

Late last year, Total Telecom interviewed Kyivstar’s CEO, Oleksandr Komarov, exploring the company’s journey since the onset of the war and the many connectivity challenges still facing the nation’s telecoms sector.

At that time of the interview, Ukraine’s power grid was being targeted by Russian missile attacks, leaving millions of people around the country reliant on localised generators for electricity and heating.

With over 40% of the country’s power grid damaged or destroyed by these attacks – and with an already freezing winter rapidly growing colder – the scale of this challenge could not be underestimated. Indeed, Komarov said that the energy crisis was perhaps the biggest challenge that the country’s telecoms sector had faced to date, threatening to leave hundreds of thousands of people disconnected.

Now, three months later, Total Telecom spoke to the Kyivstar’s CTO, Volodymyr Lutchenko, at Mobile World Congress 2023 for an update on the situation.

Thankfully, he had positive news to share.

“November and December were the worst months, but since the New Year’s period things have improved,” he explained. “In January we were still having periodical blackouts, but today the situation is more or less stable.”

Nonetheless, the threat of additional attacks to the power grid are ever-present, with Lutchenko explaining how Kyivstar was working to bolster its sites with backup power supplies in the form of additional batteries and diesel generators. However, with the entire country struggling for power, such equipment is in short supply, leading the Kyivstar to adopt a more unconventional approach to network energy.

“We’re deploying more back up power for our base stations in the form of diesel generators and batteries. But what we’re doing that’s unique is launching a crowdsourcing programme – based on a short movie shown on TV and YouTube – asking enterprises and customers to allow us to connect our equipment to their generators,” explained Lutchenko. “We’ve seen incredible results – in the very short term, we connected 600 base stations to crowdsourced generators.”

These additional measures have made Kyivstar’s network remarkably resilient to the ongoing energy struggles, though Lutchenko noted that planned power cuts would likely continue in some areas.

Sadly, Ukraine’s energy crisis is unlikely to be fully resolved soon, with procuring and installing new power infrastructure, especially large high-power autotransformers, proving a major challenge, even with the support of the international community.

Reconnecting liberated areas continues

Alongside managing the energy crisis, another major focus for Kyivstar in recent months has been restoring connectivity to newly liberated areas.

According to Lutchenko, this is a relatively simple process from a technical standpoint but requires careful coordination with the the military at a regional level.

“The biggest problem is not technical – if the site is not destroyed or badly damaged, reconnecting infrastructure is a relatively simple process. But from a military point of view, it is much more challenging,” he explained. “The surrounding territory has to be de-mined and then every building and object needs to be checked for mines and grenades. Only after that can you safely start operations.”

Once these restorative operations begin, getting these sites reconnected to the rest of the network can be done in a matter of days. In Kherson, for example, Kyivstar installed their first mobile base station within two days of the military recapturing the city, with three more becoming operational within a week.

Today, around 90% of sites are operational in liberated areas, according to Lutchenko.

“Right now, we’re fighting through energy and blackout problems, but really what we’re waiting for is to restore everything. There are not any challenges that we cannot overcome,” he concluded.

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