Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wireless Backup Power: Good News/Bad News

Recently the FCC initiated a rule that requires cellular companies to provide at least 8 hours of backup power to every cell site. This requirement comes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and has us pondering the fallout. This unfunded mandate will be vigorously fought by the cellular carriers, especially when facing an economic downturn. Equally emphatic will be the FCC and other federal powers who want the US better prepared for future disasters and terrorists.

Good News: We will be able to depend more on our cellular phones when wireline services go down. Since most wireline companies already provide backup power, the more likely scenario is when communications links are interrupted by an accident or weather. In that case, cellular sites may be affected by the same loss of service. An electrical outage more often affects the type of customer who needs a computer connection to power their IP phone, or who made the unfortunate decision to use only AC-powered phones such as "cordless" phones or phones with other powered features. We should always have a simple corded phone plugged in somewhere in the house, that is, those of us who still have wireline service.

Bad News: All the cell sites with no backup facilities are going to need additional power capacity in the form of generators or batteries. This could have a substantial visual, environmental or audible impact on nearby residents. A few cell sites wouldn't have a problem, but many more are now located in, or close to, neighbors who would. Expect a lot more boxes, and maybe buildings, to be added to these sites including generators that will need fuel tanks that could result in leaks or spills, and noise from required tests. Expect lawsuits, too.

Oh, and the FCC says this rule is already in effect! I can smell the fumes already...some from the generators, some from the neighbors. And then there are the lawyers...

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