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Power Communications Hardware

Batteries the Focus of AT&T Investigation 80

An anonymous reader writes "AT&T is focusing on the batteries supplied by Avestor as the cause of its 2006 equipment explosion in a suburban Houston neighborhood. The carrier says it has 17,000 of those same batteries still in its network. Some photos of the equipment that was shredded in the blast are also available."
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Batteries the Focus of AT&T Investigation

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  • by Lost Penguin ( 636359 ) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @12:31PM (#20195951) Homepage
    All that NSA snooping equipment was designed to self destruct if proof was recorded that the Neocons were behind 9-11.....
    • by fataugie ( 89032 )
      Shouldn't your tag line read:

      "Resistance is Fertile; You will be inseminated"
  • Sounds alot like (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JamesRose ( 1062530 ) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @12:38PM (#20195991)
    "It's 1 year later, and we still don't have a clue waht the hell is going wrong, it could happen again any time, so what we're going to do is blame a relatively cheap component manufactured by a third party and replace it.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      So going after the most likely cause, a rechargeable battery that vented hydrogen gas, is somehow wrong?

      Cars blow up, too. And so do transformers filled with oil. And steam boilers at factories. Those are real disasters. I think this "reporting" is just a lame attempt at mudslinging AT&T.
      • The cause of most explosions are explained before they've even been cleaned up (I don't mean, oh, its a bomb, I mean the actual chemicals invlovled etc) even if they are looking at the right thing now, they are shockingly slow at investigating.
      • I think this "reporting" is just a lame attempt at mudslinging AT&T.
        And this so-called reporting is extremely juvenile. From one of the photo captions: "Here's what AT&T saw as it rolled up to the scene of the explosion. Imagine if that hunk of fence had been some old cougar weeding her garden. Would have left a mark, no?" Very mature, guys.
    • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @01:05PM (#20196199) Homepage Journal
      My thought would be: What else in the cabinet could cause such an explosion? I mean, the equipment should be fused; there should be enough circuit breakers and fuses in the lines to prevent electricity from creating such a large bang; so a short or capacitor shouldn't do it. Properly constructed circuit boards aren't even all that flammable, much less explosive enough to destroy a cabinet.

      What's the most reactive chemical area around? The battery. It's a lithium type - and warns that it could catch fire/explode if damaged.

      It's certainly not a 'cheap component' - it's stated to be more expensive than other battery types.
      • I did a call over at the old SBC building in Fort Worth. You should see their back up batterys.

        They are just big vats of acid in thick glass jars with electrodes. All sorts of acid warrning sticks around the building too.
      • by v1 ( 525388 )
        Elecrticity does not explode. Most electronic equipment does not explode. Only electronics that contain chemicals that behave badly when exposed to heat, pressure, etc. Capacitors and batteries both store large amounts of energy in a chemical state, (which can change to gasious) and are the primary "explosives" in electronics. A sufficiently high current in most anything will cause rapid expansion of air however, which can make semiconductors explode, but not on nearly so grand a scale as this. I've se
        • I work for the Department of Redundancy Department.

          You most certainly do, seeing as how you mostly managed to restate what I said.

          Elecrticity does not explode

          No it doesn't, but under the right circumstances it can heat something so fast and hard that it effectively explodes. Saw/heard it once when they tried replacing a fuse on a power line that had shorted closed next to our building(we were on generator at the time). It sounded enough like a gunshot to make me duck.

          which can make semiconductors explode,
          • by v1 ( 525388 )
            Just because a battery has Li in it does not mean it's dangerous to handle. (at least, not if it's designed sensibly) Most laptop computer batteries nowadays are LiIo which is not too different.

            Yes the primary fuses on the poles can be spectacular when they go. Again you've got a conductor (fusable link) inside the cartridge and when the power co cuts in the mains and there's still a short (which can be hard to tell in advance) the link basically vaporizes instantly and superheats the inside of the cartri
            • Just because a battery has Li in it does not mean it's dangerous to handle. (at least, not if it's designed sensibly) Most laptop computer batteries nowadays are LiIo which is not too different.

              I was just relaying the recommendations placed in the instruction manuals by the company that made the batteries. Oh, and it's not like laptop batteries have a perfect safety record [cpsc.gov] either.

              They may be similar, but from my understanding, laptop LiIon batteries still use electrolyte, of with the presumably exploded ba
              • by v1 ( 525388 )
                Fuses should blow long before voltages get to the levels needed to make even a bang audible outside the cabinet.

                Rising voltage does not blow fuses. Rising current does. Rising voltage actually makes fuses blow at higher current levels than they should, which is why you have to use special fuses in high voltage circuits.

                • Rising voltage causes circuitry to use more watts, leading to more current, leading to the fuses blowing.

                  It's not ideal, but it's better than nothing. Of course a circuit breaker designed to trip on overvoltage is a good idea as well.
                • by csirac ( 574795 )
                  Wow, you are being very picky today. Saying that "rising voltage does not blow fuses, rising current does" is irrelevant... There was nothing technically wrong with parent's observation on the behaviour of protection circuits when presented with excessive voltage. Who knows, a transient voltage suppressor may be protecting the load as well as that fuse, and the TVS may provide that current to make the fuse blow on over-voltage.

                  My background is admittedly low power engineering, albeit in hazardous areas (int
    • The component in question is anything but cheap. As others have pointed out, there is nothing else in the cabinet which 1) stored that much energy, and 2) had any possibility of releasing it that quickly.

      Historically, outside plant equipment cabinets have used lead-acid batteries. These have their own problems, but they are physically quite robust, and do not explode unless they are grossly abused. Yes, they do release H2 under some conditions, but this is a known factor in the cabinet design space.


    • The batteries implicated in the fires were advanced, very expensive lithium-metal-polymer [telephonyonline.com] types developed and built by Avestor. They were built for long-life outdoor installations: rated for -40C to 65C, temperature regulated, self monitoring: these were no low end batteries! AT&T retained an independent failure investigation quoted here [lightreading.com], which "...found that the battery design was sound, as were the safety features, and concluded that the risk of hazardous failures with this battery is as low, if not l

  • Stuff like that happens when you put a large amount of energy in a small volume. I've seen pictures of helicopters that were destroyed when their ni-cad batteries went into thermal runaway due to an electrical fault.
    • Even though the investigation isn't over,the replacement battery for Li Polymer(whatever) will be NiCad (using a subsidary (of course)). They have a proven record of being reliable for ten years. However if there is still a tendency to explode, burn, melt such battery vaults should be made stronger(and maybe more tamper proof). Is it such a slow news cycle that any exploding Li battery news again?
      • It's news to me.
        Transformers do explode every so often (though not too often), but it's usually because of really bad weather or electrical power-line snafus. Phone transformers exploding because they contain batteries which are developing a history of being explosive--which likely wasn't known when the transformers were commissioned--is news.
      • by dougmc ( 70836 )
        The replacement for LiPos will not be NiCd batteries.

        NiCds have a much lower energy density than LiPos -- which is exactly why people use LiPos rather than NiCds. The self discharge rate for NiCds is higher as well, and they need a little care taken when charging them to prevent voltage depression (well, many people call it memory, but that's another thing entirely.)

        If LiPos are to be replaced, A123 batteries are a more likely replacement, though for things like this where weight and size shouldn'

        • by dougmc ( 70836 )

          The replacement for LiPos will not be NiCd batteries.

          ... or maybe I'm wrong. I'm familiar with the sealed NiCd batteries [wikipedia.org], but not really with the flooded variety [wikipedia.org] which appear to be as good a fit for this sort of thing as Lead-acid batteries are. (The sealed ones don't appear to be quite as good of a fit.)

  • Where's Sony in all of this? Oh a serious note: I hope this isn't related at all to the Sony Ericsson T637 I just bought....
    • The Sony Ericsson phone you just bought is defective by design. A google search will show up numerous complaints of no/low signal, slow software, and inability to hold a call. Contact Jennifer Atwood (manager of their customer service department) to have it replaced with a functioning model. If you do not get a positive result, you can always email the president of Sony-Ericsson worldwide... he listens and gets things done. Email me and I will send you specific contact details for people at Sony Ericsson wh
      • ...and what do you mean is a functioning model? I specifically bought this phone because of bluetooth and camera. And would SE actually replace a phone that I bought off of ebay?
  • Blew-verse; it's all good.
  • that they have ruled out the local prankster or animal intrusion.

    It's not surprising that batteries can go ballistic. That happens now and then.

    From what can be seen from the pictures the design wasn't sufficient to contain the batteries and any possible cause for explosion there. Maybe the designer didn't think about that or wanted to do a cheap job.

  • Awesome case mod ! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=13 1210&page_number=1&image_number=8&site= [lightreading.com]

    for a totally over-the-top case mod. It's Unreal meets Terminator.
  • I'm not sure what types of batteries they were using, but standard lead-acid batteries vent hydrogen during charging. If you don't make provisions for the removal of it and it builds up in the cabinet, one tiny spark and you've got yourself a little bomb sitting there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      And the phone lines are near the power lines, so lots of opportunities for little sparks...
      But I hear that the batteries in question are li-poly. I don't think they vent hydrogen; they just appear to have unfortunate internal similarities to C4 explosive when they're made wrong.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by NoMaster ( 142776 )
        Not so much of the "little sparks"; yes there are relays still inside that sort of gear, but they're reed relays with the contacts sealed in a nitrogen atmosphere.

        What you do find, however, is cct breakers and contactors on the main power feed & internal distribution. But the usual explosive trigger is the sparks from the cells themselves as they self-destruct...

        We used to get 1 or 2 incidents like this a year in Aus, mostly in the far north. The SLA batteries used here don't take kindly to temps above
  • Did anyone see Ethan Harris in the area?
  • It's quite amazing that we still have problems manufacturing 'safe' batteries.

    Anyone else remember the issues with Toshiba/Sony/Apple laptop batteries?

    'Close your eyes and you'll burst into flames'.
    • Dell and HP batteries too. *Everybody* was using the things Sony was selling.
    • There are all sorts of economic forces in play pushing for higher energy density batteries.

      I can't tell you what's next, battery technology wise, but it will have more explosive potential then Lithium batteries.

      In 100 years kids will deliberately short small batteries to make them explode. Unless the world comes to it's senses and continues to allow access to guns and reloading supplies. In the areas that do lucky kids will continue to blow things up the old fashioned way...When I was a kid, we made ou

    • It's quite amazing that we still have problems manufacturing 'safe' batteries.

      There is no technical problem in doing so. It's strictly a matter of economics.
  • gee. not only are they ugly but potentially deadly too.

    these are significantly large, noisy cluster boxes that under existing statute att feels can be installed anywhere, at the end of driveways in front of private homes etc. we now have these all over town and are currently involved in negotiations w/att to minimise their aesthetic impact.

    now i suppose we'll have to go back and negotiate their explosive impact too.

    vrad box walk-through


    check put the fa

  • Where can I find one of these feline gardeners?
  • Such high power densities, so little chance of explosion, so little maintenance.
    • Huh? With the centrifical forces in a flywheel battery you can have a different type of explosion, the force of pieces flying off at high speed is still deadly.
      • by F34nor ( 321515 ) *
        It takes a huge force to penetrate the casing or to throw the wheel off the gimbals. Not only does it not happen very often but without blowing up the spacecraft that carries it or running a big sharp pointy chuck of hardened steel into it it seems easy to avoid. If you are using this for a battery for a house a business or a telco you can even bury them in the ground so if they do have a problem its no big deal. Caterpillar makes them for god sakes.

        They now coat internal surfaces with nylon, if the flywhee
  • Another item of mention is the heat build up of that area. To quote Matthew Broderick...."It Africa Hot, Tarzan couldn't take this kinda heat." I live just North of Houston and it's unbearable in the late summer months.

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