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Telecoms must provide emergency battery power post-Katrina

After Hurricane Katrina, the FCC ruled that telecom service providers must maintain eight hours of battery power at remote locations.

After Hurricane Katrina spotlighted emergency phone service inadequacy, the FCC mandated that providers with more...

than 500,000 subscribers provide 24 hours of backup power to all central offices and 8 hours of power to all remote locations, such as cell towers and switching hubs.

The mandate was well intentioned, but many telecoms worried about their ability to meet the requirements -- and how to adequately test their capacity. Seven separate petitions were filed to "rescind, modify and/or clarify the backup power rule," according to the FCC.

Though the task of making sure that each central office and remote location has power remains daunting, BatteryCorp has a solution that it claims can help ease testing and documentation concerns.

Jonathan Quint, president of BatteryCorp, said his company differentiates itself by providing not only backup-power hardware and servicing but also a unique Web-based software solution that collates testing information and can offer providers a quick, precise overview of current backup capacities by area, as well as information on what kinds of repairs and replacements will be needed in the future.

"With our system, you send a technician out there with a test set," Quint said. "He takes the information in an automated way and puts it in a centralized database accessible by the customer."

Once this information is collected, he said, the data can help project both immediate and future costs associated with replacing and repairing batteries. Also, the data can be used to estimate -- generally within 5% -- how long each backup system will survive in an outage, making it easier to target problem areas without adequate reserves.

Quint says that BatteryCorp has worked with all of the major providers at some point, but that most of his business is with cellular companies.

"Generally, there are two types [of customers]," he said. "There are those who are very interested in the performance of their batteries. There are other clients who don't really care about the batteries, because batteries are just components of their business." He said that the recent FCC ruling -- and unknown requirements about compliance verification -- has made the latter category think twice about backup power's importance.

Quint also gave some advice on best testing practices. He said that provider technicians should not simply check the voltage as an indicator of a battery's health. In these readings, the battery is "on float," meaning that the charger will keep the battery's current at a steady level.

A load test -- actually cutting the power and seeing how long the battery lasts -- is exact, but it is not a particularly practical or efficient method. Quint said that technicians could instead check impedance, conductance or the resistance to the flow of electricity. Any one of these readings could be used to derive an accurate estimate of a battery's health and capacity in a blackout.

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