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February 9, 2024

Technology

Keeping Communications Alive with EV-Powered Technology

The interruption of communication services during power outages is a problem that becomes particularly acute in disaster scenarios. Traditionally, communication base stations have depended on backup batteries and generators. However, backup batteries offer only a short-term solution as they have a limited lifespan; once the batteries are exhausted, communication services suffer until power restoration or generator deployment. At the same time, the use of generators poses fuel supply challenges, especially in disaster-hit areas, and their setup and maintenance are cumbersome.

Delays in restoring communication services can lead to prolonged disruption, impacting emergency response and coordination, as well as public access to essential information and assistance.

Research currently being undertaken by NTT DOCOMO, NTT, and NIPPON CAR SOLUTIONS (NCS) aims to find solutions to this problem.

Addressing the issue of getting power to base stations, instead of backup batteries or generators, the research is looking to improve disaster response by using electric vehicles (EVs). The three partners launched a trial earlier this year to use EVs in powering base stations during outages.

The experiment currently taking place in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, involves simulating power outages, then creating dispatch plans for EVs based on base station needs and EV data, followed by real-world testing of these plans during a simulated wide-area power outage. Researchers are also testing and evaluating the charging of base station batteries from the EVs and the overall efficiency of the power supply plans.

A key component of the system is DOCOMO's Energy Management System (EMS), which monitors and controls the power at base stations. Additionally, NTT has developed an AI-based vehicle dispatch system using advanced deep reinforcement learning (DRL). DRL uses neural networks to make decisions and learn from interactions within its environment, aiming to maximize performance over time. Its approach is highly effective in complex scenarios where traditional decision-making methods encounter difficulties. The trial system, along with real-time data on EVs such as their location, stored power, and driving data provided by NCS, aims to efficiently send fully charged EVs to base stations that have lost power.

The trial, set to run until the end of June, is also a part of NTT's commitment to the EV100 initiative, a global effort to increase the adoption of electric vehicles and related infrastructure in businesses.

Each research partner has a specific role: DOCOMO oversees planning and managing the experiment and is evaluating the power-sharing between base stations and EVs. NTT is responsible for the route generation technology and AI dispatch planning, focusing on improving the system's accuracy and practicality. Meanwhile, NCS handles the collection and provision of EV information and works to assess any challenges related to this data.

The new technology has potential uses beyond disaster response, which could include:

  • Remote Area Connectivity: Providing communication services in remote or underserved areas where traditional power infrastructure is unreliable or non-existent.
  • Event Management: Offering temporary communication and power solutions during large public events, festivals, or in temporary settlements, where the existing infrastructure might not suffice.
  • Sustainable Power Solutions: Contributing to sustainable energy goals by utilizing EVs as mobile power sources, potentially integrating with renewable energy sources.
  • Smart City Infrastructure: Integrating with smart city systems to provide dynamic support to the power grid, balancing loads, and ensuring uninterrupted services in urban settings.
  • Healthcare and Emergency Services: Supporting hospitals and emergency services with a reliable power source during critical operations or power failures, ensuring life-saving equipment remains operational.

By harnessing the flexibility and mobility of EVs combined with AI-based dispatch and energy management systems, the base station power rescue system has the potential to enhance not only disaster response, but also many other sectors that require robust and flexible power solutions.

NTT—Innovating the Future of Communication

Picture: Daniel O'Connor

Daniel O'Connor joined the NTT Group in 1999 when he began work as the Public Relations Manager of NTT Europe. While in London, he liaised with the local press, created the company's intranet site, wrote technical copy for industry magazines and managed exhibition stands from initial design to finished displays.

Later seconded to the headquarters of NTT Communications in Tokyo, he contributed to the company's first-ever winning of global telecoms awards and the digitalisation of internal company information exchange.

Since 2015 Daniel has created content for the Group's Global Leadership Institute, the One NTT Network and is currently working with NTT R&D teams to grow public understanding of the cutting-edge research undertaken by the NTT Group.