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FCC Requires Backup Power For 210K Cell Towers

kdawson posted about 7 years ago | from the generating-controversy dept.

Communications 248

1sockchuck alerts us to an article in Data Center Knowledge that explores ramifications from the FCC's decision a couple of months back to require backup power for cell sites and other parts of the telecom infrastructure. The new rule was prompted by wireless outages during Hurricane Katrina. There are more than 210,000 cell towers in the US, as well as 20,000 telecom central offices that will also need generators or batteries. Municipalities are bracing for disputes as carriers try to add generators or batteries to cell sites on rooftops or water towers. The rules will further boost demand in the market for generators, where there are already lengthy delivery backlogs for some models.

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You mean they didn't before? (4, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | about 7 years ago | (#21651287)


That's alright, I know a guy (5, Funny)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | about 7 years ago | (#21651309)

I know a guy, he can get you all the batteries you want, alike the brade of your choice, at 1/5 the price! [slashdot.org]

Re:You mean they didn't before? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651349)

Cellphones weren't considered vital infrastructure before. And even now it is hard to argue that they can be since you can't always guarantee a usable signal in all locations (which makes it less useful to emergency responders) and since cellphone networks can easily be overwhelmed in emergencies where everybody gets on the phone at once, like during the 9/11 attacks.

At the same time, when cellphones are usable, they can be very helpful. If many of the cell towers didn't fail during Katrina, it would have been much easier to help many of the victims and coordinate the rescue in a more efficient manner.

Re:You mean they didn't before? (2, Interesting)

Forge (2456) | about 7 years ago | (#21651925)

I find this whole discusion hilarius.

Here in Jamaica one celphone company spnt a year advertising it's performance during huricane Ivan. What's worse is that the other major competitor had everything. Batterys, Generators etc... The mistake thy made was in the size fuel tanks at each site. They figured a couple days suply would be enogh.

With the number of Cellsites they have , this ment a small army roaming the country with botles of gasoline to keap the network at least partialy running.

And here are you yanks panicking over government esentialy saying to cell companies "Excersize some common sence or we will kick your bots"

Re:You mean they didn't before? (4, Interesting)

liquidpele (663430) | about 7 years ago | (#21651375)

I would think that it would be important to require a type of "emergency mode", where if the power goes down and the battery/generator gets down to 50%, it will only accept calls to 911 and/or other emergency numbers. That is of course assuming that not connecting other calls would save power...

Re:You mean they didn't before? (2, Informative)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 7 years ago | (#21652057)

Most critical unmanned infrastructure uses natural gas generators onsite, not stored diesel, so they're not going to run out unless the natural gas infrastructure is damaged as well (which is a definite possibility in cases such as Katrina).

Re:You mean they didn't before? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651581)

Verizon does. Here in Iowa City when a tornado went through, GSM users were out of luck -- AT&T and Iowa Wireless ("A T-Mobile affiliate") both had no battery backup. CDMA calls were pretty garbly as you headed downtown -- Sprint and US Cellular were not battery backed either, so all 3 CDMA carrier's traffic went through on Verizon's sites. (Given the amount of damage, I'd assume some of VZW's building-top sites were probably damaged or at least misaimed too.) VZW must have cleaned up on roaming revenues, given the power was out downtown for almost a week, and that downtown is both full of university students and additionally was full of contractors.

            I was on the cell phone right after this happened; my call dropped when the local cell site switched from battery backup to generator power (maybe the power dipped just a little too much before the generator caught?) but I made a call fine right after that. Later when I was downtown, it was amazing to see all these rather drunken looking students taking cell phone photos, then starting waving their phones around in the air, shaking them, etc. to try to make the phone get service to send the photos 8-).

Re:You mean they didn't before? (1)

404 Clue Not Found (763556) | about 7 years ago | (#21651749)

How do you know these things? Were you next to the site when it switched to its generator?

In Argentina ... (1)

GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) | about 7 years ago | (#21651677)

ALL cell towers operate usually on two different power sources, plus a generator as a backup.

Needing a law to require something so obvious as a backup power source is sad, but true ...

power isn't the only problem (1)

Taco Meat (1104291) | about 7 years ago | (#21651303)

what about capacity? If everyone in the US made a call on their cell phone right now, the whole network would be brought to its knees.

Re:power isn't the only problem (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | about 7 years ago | (#21651797)

What about it?

If every person in the US turned on everything electric in their house, the grid would be brought to it's knees.
If every person in the US tried to fill up their car at once, the fuel industry would be brought to it's knees.
If every person in the US tried to fly at once, the airline industry would be brought to it's knees.
If every person in the US hit slashdot at once, slashdot would be brought to it's knees.

You can't build infrastructure to handle everyone at once, all the time. It just doesn't make sense.

Re:power isn't the only problem (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | about 7 years ago | (#21651871)

No, but with a computer-controlled system like the cellular network it would be perfectly possible to prioritize traffic in an emergency. It surprises me that they apparently can't do that.

Re:power isn't the only problem (3, Informative)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 7 years ago | (#21652079)

GSM does allow you to prioritize emergency traffic: []

Wireless Priority Services
- Became a high priority after September 11, 2001.
Extension of the U.S. wireline GETS system that had been around for many years.
Used the same call queuing approach.
Only available from GSM providers
- Only GSM has priority call identifiers.

Re:power isn't the only problem (1)

freeze128 (544774) | about 7 years ago | (#21651969)

If every person in the US turned on everything electric in their house, the grid would be brought to it's knees.
I would think that local breakers would trip, cutting off branches that are drawing excessive power. The grid would be fine, but there would be a lot of unhappy customers.

If every person in the US tried to fill up their car at once, the fuel industry would be brought to it's knees.
The fuel industry would be celebrating. That just means that they can raise the price of gas to $79 a gallon. This in turn would probably prevent a lot of people from filling up their cars...

If every person in the US tried to fly at once, the airline industry would be brought to it's knees.
Somehow, I don't think that enough people would be able to get through security to adversely affect the airlines. It's more likely that the price of gas from the previous scenario would have a worse affect on the industry.

If every person in the US hit slashdot at once, slashdot would be brought to it's knees.
Well, you're right.

At last (5, Funny)

weorthe (666189) | about 7 years ago | (#21651313)

Millions of people will be able to call each other to ask "is your power out too?"

Re:At last (1)

Architect_sasyr (938685) | about 7 years ago | (#21651437)

That is the most insightful comment I've seen today. It's like the users who call you and ask if the mail server is down as if I wouldn't notice something like the most critical service in the company stopping...

Re:At last (4, Funny)

Kent Recal (714863) | about 7 years ago | (#21652025)

I usually just say "Yes, and the phone system is down, too. We're working on it, can you get back to me later?".
Usually they just say ok and hang up, without even noticing...

Still have a problem (3, Insightful)

ninjapiratemonkey (968710) | about 7 years ago | (#21651319)

The backup generators will probably not be very effective in preventing outages during natural disasters. Consider New Orleans: how many of generators can work while submerged underwater? Or California, where should an earthquake knock out the original power to a tower, it is just as likely to knock out the generator.

24 hours is not enough (3, Informative)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 7 years ago | (#21651379)

A generator is far less likely to get knocked out that power lines. Consider how many points of failure there are in grid-provided power.

24 hours is sufficent to cover for brief, minor outages. It is not enough to cover for anything close to a natural disaster where many sites lose power and there are not enough resources to fix them all in 24 hours.

Here in New Zealand, all our telecom has 24 hour battery backup but it is sized "just right". Last year we lost power for approx 40 hours due to a severe snow storm. The phones lasted for appeox 25 hours.

Re:Still have a problem (3, Informative)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 7 years ago | (#21651409)

Or California, where should an earthquake knock out the original power to a tower, it is just as likely to knock out the generator.

Not so. That all depends on where the damage is. If it's at, or fairly near the tower, quite possibly. If the power's out because a power line was dropped by the temblor, there's a good chance that the cell tower and any generator are just fine. I remember after the Northridge Quake there were major power outages, but the equipment worked just fine as soon as the power was back. As far as floods go, there's no reason not to install them in waterproof rooms to make sure they're OK even if that room's under water.

Re:Still have a problem (2, Insightful)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 7 years ago | (#21651543)

Well duh, how many US cities are built under sea level?

New Orleans should be used as a land fill, till it is sufficiently raised to be viable again.

Re:Still have a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651757)

Even areas that were above sea level still got substantial flooding -- as in 10+ feet in some areas. I lived in an area in Mississippi affected by Katrina, and very near the huge areas that were totally flooded. I know. :)

Being below sea level just means it takes longer to get the water out. A major hurricane "pushes" a substantial amount of water in front of it called the storm surge. In Katrina's case, the storm surge shattered records and flooded not only lower-lying areas in Mississippi (which are also the most populous in the state), but many higher areas. Thousands of people who had been told they would never need flood insurance lost their homes. Thus the squabble today.

Re:Still have a problem (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21652071)

I had always assumed we were already using New Orleans as a landfill.

Re:Still have a problem (2, Funny)

mcrbids (148650) | about 7 years ago | (#21651729)

The backup generators will probably not be very effective in preventing outages during natural disasters. Consider New Orleans: how many of generators can work while submerged underwater? Or California, where should an earthquake knock out the original power to a tower, it is just as likely to knock out the generator.

Consider... Backup power good for just 72 hours, (batteries, etc) and connections by directional microwave. (common) Most disasters are short-lived events. It only takes one cell tower to provide communication coverage for a few square miles. Imagine what having such a system, even in NOLA, could do. That's 3 days of backup power, providing much-needed information to emergency first-responders and/or military response units.

That's a big, big, big deal.

Oh, and your California example is just silly. You mean, that an earthquake is just as likely to destroy a pack of batteries in a shielded metal box as it is to topple any of the thousands of power line towers (think tall, spindly,) or trees near power lines? That's ridiculous, and I'm surprised you posted it.

What, for me, is surprising is that this wasn't already the case. This strikes me as so fundamental and so basic, and shows just how much profiteering is going on in the cellular industry. Despite having infrastructure investment costs orders of magnitude cheaper than copper, and a less-than-complete requirement for cellular coverage, (Can you hear me now, anyone?) I pay MORE for cellular than I do for land lines? That's just absurd...

Re:Still have a problem (4, Funny)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 7 years ago | (#21651889)

That's ridiculous, and I'm surprised you posted it.

You must be new here.

Re:Still have a problem (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 7 years ago | (#21651835)

Or more likely knock out (over) the tower.

Re:Still have a problem (0, Offtopic)

Tablizer (95088) | about 7 years ago | (#21651947)

Or California, where should an earthquake knock out the original power to a tower, it is just as likely to knock out the generator.

iM iN aN EaRtHqUaKe rIgHt NoW, aNd i DoN'T SeE aNy Pro%~`1#& , .

Re:Still have a problem (1)

sponga (739683) | about 7 years ago | (#21651991)

Earthquakes are not as devastating as they used to be or as people make them out to be in California mainly because of home building code improvements and overall infrastructure improvement; mainly just in San Fransisco area where the big one is coming. Cal Edison is doing massive upgrades to the electrical infrastructure in California, so most of the power remains on even in a bad earthquake. Electric towers(strong A-frames/etc) and poles are buried deep(20 ft+) in the ground; they will not be easily knocked down unless you are at the epicenter.

Hell during the North Ridge quake we didn't lose power but instead watched the news people in the morning start looking around as the studio shook and than you heard the earthquake approaching which sounded like a 100 freight trains coming at you, pretty hilarious and later on that day we went to Knott's Berry Farm where all the rides were still working.

I don't see why a generator would be knocked out of commission when it is most likely bolted to the ground and the worst that would happen is it would move a foot or so during movement, most cords are flexible anyways and we Californians can easily survive up to a 9.0+ for most homes.

New Orleans is just basically uninhabitable geographically and it would be pointless to provide power to a flooded city where everything would short out in the water, unless you raise the whole city and electrical lines in homes out of the water. They just have to ride it out unless they can get a temporary cell tower in the air somehow on a blimp/plane.

Living in the Midwest is a completely different story because of the intense storms and freezes they get; even if they had generators you would have to have huge reserve tanks of gas because you would most likely not be able to get out to it to refill. They basically just have to ride it out like they have been doing and find some good neighbors to hang tough with.

How do some of the colder European countries handle some of these situations, although it is hard to compare since the U.S. is a lot larger and some of the communities might be closer together?

Re:Still have a problem (1)

bogjobber (880402) | about 7 years ago | (#21652063)

Presumably the tower would be located on high land or on top of buildings, putting it and the generators at lower risk of rising floodwaters. And during earthquakes, large amounts of buildings don't usually collapse. A few older buildings and structures collapse and large numbers of buildings receive light to moderate damage. Power failures are caused mostly by ruptured transmission lines, not by knocking out the actual power source.

Solar (5, Interesting)

proudfoot (1096177) | about 7 years ago | (#21651327)

Maybe self powering solar paneled towers might be better. You'd be helping the environment as well as providing backup. And the height of these towers are perfect for a wind turbine + battery installation as well.
Even if it's not perfectly reliable, such a tower could be connected to the grid, and in the event of emergency, it'll be at the very least, intermittent,which is enough for some traffic to flow out for a very long time. With a battery/generator, you'd only have power, while reliable, for a limited amount of time.

Re:Solar (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651523)

Jesus christ you fucking hippies. Your solution to everything is to throw a fucking solar panel on it. And wind power...are you shitting me. The little wind you get down the street isn't going to power a flash light much less a tower on the wireless network. Wind turbines need to be placed in very windy mountainous areas not likely to provide great cell service. Also you fucking sensationalists think that batteries are the end all storage. Do you realize most batteries are bad for the environment, are expensive as sin, and are horribly inefficient? And solar...which spot on the tower do we block? I also hope you know that solar panels for anything more useful than a calculator will need to be very large and expensive. Please hippies think before just throwing out the two most horribly inefficient energy sources. I am sure we can burn a bit of gas during an emergency and our carbon counting overloads will forgive us.

Re:Solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651743)

Please stop breathing. You are wasting the Earth's precious oxygen. - Al Gore

Re:Solar (1)

calebt3 (1098475) | about 7 years ago | (#21651901)

1) Wind is stronger higher up.
2) There is a fairly constant wind all along the coastlines.
3) Solar panels can be used over virtually the entire outer surface of a tower.
4) Alternatives to batteries are coming up fast [slashdot.org] .

Although I agree that wind and solar would ultimately be impractical.

Re:Solar (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 7 years ago | (#21652099)

Solar panels cannot be used on the outside of the tower. Wind loading would pull the tower to the ground. It's not built to support that, only to support a frame structure and RF equipment.

Re:Solar (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651713)

I move that in any situation where more environment friendly sources of power could be used we use the phrase 'less harmful to' instead of 'helping'. Seriously, this bugs me almost as much as companies trying to be "CO2 Neutral". Stuff we want costs energy, not just the usage of it but also the manufacturing, distribution, installation and maintenance. Now make all these solar powered.. and you're still not 'helping', you're just going for par. and that's not counting the energy costs of producing the solar cells.

Not that there's anything wrong with using solar powered cell towers. But it's in no way 'helpful' to the environment.

Re:Solar (1)

dasunst3r (947970) | about 7 years ago | (#21651753)

I was also going to suggest adding solar, but that was taken. Doing so would bring about lots of benefits:
1. Less power draw from the power grid (or even contribute to the power grid)
2. (slightly) Lower generator power requirement (if the company so chooses to add one anyway)
3. Green image for the company

As for the battery pack, one might want to use super/ultra capacitors.

Re:Solar and Wind Turbine (5, Informative)

Tisha_AH (600987) | about 7 years ago | (#21651775)

To provide solar power to a cell site would require several hundred square feet of space to mount the panels. Sizing a solar power system for infrastructure requires planning for when the amount of sun is at the minimum (approx 2 hours during wintertime at northern latitudes). A aolar system must put a full charge on the battery system to account for charging losses, battery inefficiency, and the continual demand of the load. To match up to a solar power system you need a very significant battery string (when I do system calculations I assume that the system can go for three days without sun). Mounting a wind turbine on a cell tower is problematic too. An antenna structure has a loading (ANSI 222 (f or g)) that has to account for ice, maximum wind and the surface area of the tower, feedline, antennas, etc... A wind turbine adds ALOT of loading to a structure. I suspect that 90% of the cell towers out there right now could not pass the structural analysis under ANSI.

Re:Solar and Wind Turbine (1)

afidel (530433) | about 7 years ago | (#21651961)

How many KVA does a typical cellsite(single provider) need? I'm wondering what sized generators are going to be harder to get. We recently had an almost 90 day wait for our 100KVA set, but I assume that's much larger than a cellsite needs.

Re:Solar (2, Interesting)

Dahamma (304068) | about 7 years ago | (#21651907)

Right, I'm sure all those churches, schools, etc that agreed (with compensation, of course) to put a cleverly inconspicuous cell tower in their steeples and flag poles are going to love 1000 sq feet of solar panels, or a giant wind turbine in the middle of town.

Though as the article mentions, it's not like they are going to allow a big generator and battery, either...

This was a reason I still have a landline.... (3, Insightful)

ip_freely_2000 (577249) | about 7 years ago | (#21651329)

During the east coast power failure a couple of years back, cell phones were useless because the towers were dead. Landlines worked just fine. I've always felt that the cell companies weren't doing enough to build out their infrastructure to support big events. They'd just have enough in place to provide average service.

Ma Bell and the landline service has been built out for generations and it shows.

Re:This was a reason I still have a landline.... (1)

XO (250276) | about 7 years ago | (#21651367)

Verizon and Sprint had generators operating many of their cell sites into the 3rd day. Unfortunatly, after the 3rd day, gasoline supplies began to run out, and the gas stations were pretty much all closed, unless you could bring it in from the nearest places outside the blackout zone, which to where I was was about 90 miles.

Re:This was a reason I still have a landline.... (1)

kevorkian (142533) | about 7 years ago | (#21651661)

Now ... I may be a little out of it but the way I remember "the east coast outage a few years back" most of the power was back on that night. Where were you that it took more then 3 days to get the power back on ?

Re:This was a reason I still have a landline.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651737)

I can't speak for him, but I lived near Cleveland, OH at the time and though I don't remember exactly how long the power was out, it was definitely measured in days not hours.

Re:This was a reason I still have a landline.... (1)

XO (250276) | about 7 years ago | (#21651799)

I'm sorry, I was referring to the "northeast" power outage, that affected Ohio, Michigan, New York, and bits of Canada.

Re:This was a reason I still have a landline.... (1)

Dantu (840928) | about 7 years ago | (#21651493)

During the east coast power failure a couple of years back, cell phones were useless because the towers were dead.

Depends where you lived. I was in Waterloo Ontario at the time, and never lost a signal with my provider (Telus). The signal started getting weaker after the first day or so, presumably as the backups on some of the towers started to die. On the other hand, I had friends with another provider (Rogers) who's phones went dead or got only a poor signal when the power went out, but started to get a signal later as the provider dispatched generators to the towers. For me a bigger problem was that I had no way of charging my phone, so in another day or two it wouldn't have really mattered to me +if the towers were up or now.

Re:This was a reason I still have a landline.... (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 7 years ago | (#21652151)

Ma Bell and the landline service has been built out for generations and it shows.

Ma Bell works when no one else does because it's a requirement by law. Cellular networks are not deemed monopolies like Ma Bell, and therefore are unencumbered by the reliability expectations incumbent local exchange carriers are required to provide.

I don't believe cellular providers should have the cost burden thrust upon them because people demand to be able to use their phones after huge disasters occur. If you want that level of service, be prepared for the cost of cellular service to rise, as the cost is just going to be tacked on to your existing service.

A problem that won't exist (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 7 years ago | (#21651331)

Municipalities are bracing for disputes as carriers try to add generators or batteries to cell sites on rooftops or water towers.

I find it hard to believe that this is going to be an issue. The batteries don't have to be up on the roof, or on top of the water tower to be effective. Yes, the closer the better, but I doubt there will be more than a handful of places where there's no other place for them.

Re:A problem that won't exist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651657)

kdawson nailed this correctly when he tagged it as the generating-controversy. What a complete non-issue.
Honestly I half expected a few Slashpeople to rail against the FCC for requiring backup power, but I'm glad I haven't seen any such posts.

All CDMA are backed up already (1)

XO (250276) | about 7 years ago | (#21651335)

All CDMA systems have power backup facilities built into their equipment. ALL of them have battery power to some degree, and have interfaces for generators to be connected to them as well.

Disaster response? (5, Insightful)

brownsteve (673529) | about 7 years ago | (#21651343)

I am a ham radio operator and concern myself with disaster preparedness. With POTS (plain old telephone system) everyone is guaranteed their own connection, complete with line backup power so you can use the phone even if the power's out. Sometimes the switches overload and "all circuits are busy" but in most situations it's worked pretty well for the last century.

I worry about the trend to move to cell phones. We rely on both our cell phone's battery and the cell tower to stay powered. We also rely on available frequencies to use the tower. In Katrina and recently the San Diego fires, everyone immediately got on their cell phones and jammed all of the towers. Is there enough redundancy, power, and capacity to handle the next disaster? I don't think we should wait for the next hurricane to prove if cell towers can handle an emergency.

Re:Disaster response? (1)

JavaManJim (946878) | about 7 years ago | (#21651431)

Hammy, your mind is in the right place. The current paradigm is for flash and dash on the cheap. Business continuity is an orphan project at companies. We need to roll back to 1960 and plan for outages! For just the reasons you describe.

When I worked for ARCO Oil and Gas in the 1980's, they counted on the power being out. So they spent 13 million 1980 dollars to run a duplicate high power line from another grid to back up their data center. So their data center was served by two separate power grids. Also ARCO had an empty data center in Independence KS and an agreement with IBM to ship big iron if the Plano data center was ever zapped.


Re:Disaster response? (1)

guruevi (827432) | about 7 years ago | (#21651751)

Well technically it should be simpler and more effective to run a "small" single-site tower (esp. in an emergency) than to run a grid that covers the same area that has random lines running under and above ground that could randomly be cut, over- or abused, short circuited, damaged and that needs extensive operations to be totally replaced. That the cell phone companies cheaped out on their customers while landlines have been installed, regulated and supported historically by local and federal governments (so lots of taxpayers money was sunk in those things) in the time that businesses still were run by a human (and not by an organization of crooks and lawyers (redundant)) that can be held accountable.

Re:Disaster response? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 7 years ago | (#21651929)

The problem is that the cell tower is a central point of failure. A disaster hits and the cell tower goes out... oops, everyone in the area loses service. Forget about a power outage, the disaster is likely to take out the tower itself.

POTS? It's like the Internet. Yeah, your line might get cut, but then you run next door and use your neighbor's.

Re:Disaster response? (1)

smchris (464899) | about 7 years ago | (#21651765)

Count me in as old and crusty too.

Seems like something promoted by the generator manufacturers' association. 210,000? I guess that's why they're the FCC and I'm not. Big thinking.

So, they'll sit in their boxes at each cell company's disaster-fortified warehouse until needed? Or it will provide jobs for people to change the oil and gas and test (and guard?) them periodically on or off site? I'm assuming the former. So it's sort of like the big Pharma handouts we give them to stock warehouses of drugs that get thrown out because we didn't need them over the course of their expiration.

Hey, it's only money. Soooo much better than POTS.

Re:Disaster response? (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 7 years ago | (#21651785)

oh yes. the backup systems on the POTS around here is quite stunning. the batteries alone (a few racks of 48V ones about the size of beer kegs) will run the system for about 8 hours and they have a pair of nice big diesel generators for after that (one is more than enough to run everything (including the offices!), but redundancy is good in emergency systems), with about 2 weeks worth of fuel, with electrical and manual pumps to the gravity-feed day tanks. redundancy in spades.

significantly less backup for rural areas (the concentrators have about 10 hours of battery), but they'll usually be out with a generator within 5 hours if the power co. says it'll be out longer than 8.

Re:Disaster response? (1)

Nethead (1563) | about 7 years ago | (#21651817)

Almost all of Verizon's cell (ok, PCS) sites have backup power. That's why they advertise "most reliable network." But, like you, I have my own back-up power for my station for when it gets really nasty.

73, de w7com

Re:Disaster response? (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 7 years ago | (#21651897)

I don't think we should wait for the next hurricane to prove if cell towers can handle an emergency.

We don't have too. Try making several calls while stuck on the freeway during rush-hour traffic. All surrounding towers get jammed up calling family and the office. But with at least three attempts, you'll get through and obtain a connection.

I can only imagine the impact of a major natural event.

Re:Disaster response? (1)

$random_var (919061) | about 7 years ago | (#21652163)

Maybe cell phones should have a "power emergency" mode in which the processor is sharply downclocked, the only radio that is turned on is the GSM, and it boots into a low-demand OS which just has a contact list and dialing interface (and maybe SMS too). And it has strict power-saving, with the screen and radio turning off after x seconds of disuse. Maybe you could hook a crank up to the vibrator motor to generate a weak current. Cell coverage could be provided in a disaster by a fleet of blimps. That wouldn't work in stormy conditions, but it would probably be great following a nice big California earthquake. How cool would that be... look on the horizon, see this fleet of blimps powering your way, and think "finally! the blimps are here, so everything's all right!"

I am in a Outage RIGHT NOW with NO Cell Service! (4, Interesting)

Zymergy (803632) | about 7 years ago | (#21651353)

I am currently in a power outage with NO Cellular Service (of any type)! This actually *sucks* and is inexcusable (considering what I pay!)
Those Damn Ice Storms here in the Central US (today and yesterday). (Generators/UPS are so so nice!)
Had Cell Service (with AT&T/Cingular) for about 3 hours following the outage (currently the largest single outage in my state's history)... but apparently the cell-site UPS batteries drained and the tower site did not have a generator...
I am going to ask for a prorated refund for my service plan (and they will legally HAVE TO give me that discount for my contracted service being out).
If EVERYONE called up their service providers and asked specifically for their prorated discount for service being out (on that given day)... I bet they would invest in UPS/Generator combos at the cell tower sites... -Z

Re:I am in a Outage RIGHT NOW with NO Cell Service (2, Insightful)

Ksevio (865461) | about 7 years ago | (#21651541)

You're in a power outage posting to slashdot? Do you have a backup satalite link and generator just in case you lose internet for a few hours?

Re:I am in a Outage RIGHT NOW with NO Cell Service (1)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | about 7 years ago | (#21651663)

Hey, a geek has to have his priorities!

Re:I am in a Outage RIGHT NOW with NO Cell Service (1)

3p1ph4ny (835701) | about 7 years ago | (#21651755)

No, but power and communication lines are often buried in the upper Midwest due to the incredible ice storms we get. Those that aren't have many extra poles/unit length to hold them up for exactly this reason. His phone/cable lines are probably live, but the power lines aren't.

Re:I am in a Outage RIGHT NOW with NO Cell Service (1)

Zymergy (803632) | about 7 years ago | (#21651977)

For the record, cell service just came back up... well, actually it didn't ...it now says 'network busy'. Probably a puny mobile cell site trailer... have to go look for it in the morning.
Speaking of which, I have been looking around but I still don't see that Aussie-accented-guy standing in any ponds or holes around here touting the new 'AT&T Wireless Broadband Network'...

Sure, what else to do after an Ice storm (after getting your power working).. but Post on /.
I have remarkably reliable Cable Internet/Digital Cable service and it is *always* working.
My Cable provider's nodes have UPS battery boxes w/Natural Gas generators attached to each fiber/analog node breakout box (sitting beside it).
One of these nodes happens to be located 30 feet from my house in my yard's edge. (I know this because I lifted off its plastic cover to see what the hell I have been mowing around...) I truly enjoy the low latency (LPB) of having my cable provider's fiber-to-coax node so close to my home. (And the DOCSIS loop sharing, etc.. is not an issue (yet) in my neighborhood. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOCSIS [wikipedia.org] )
And yes, I have a decent 5kw generator and several UPS' of my own doing frequent 'line conditioning' operations on the sags and spikes of the generator's voltage regulators being slow. Extension cords abound. (Apparently some ice covered trees took out the feed lines going to the sub-station (which is one block away).. according to my power utility provider. That will probably take days to fix... Crews have been called in from other states to 'help'...
Let's just say that I now know where that extra money went when I purchased one of these... http://www.apc.com/resource/include/techspec_index.cfm?base_sku=SUA1000XL [apc.com]
It may only be 1000VA, but it has a monster battery and is very responsive to line conditions (plus has lots of indicator lights on the front that finally I get to see in action)... -Z

Re:I am in a Outage RIGHT NOW with NO Cell Service (1)

afidel (530433) | about 7 years ago | (#21652021)

I have a Matrix 5000 with 4 batteries about the size of a large truck battery that came out of our old DR site when we upgraded the UPS there. I'm planning to have it wired in by an electrician to run my blower, sump and fridge during such emergencies. It's always either an ice storm (thus the blower for heat) or a hell of a thunderstorm (thus the sump) that takes out power around here for any length of time. I figure that it will power 2 of the 3 for a day or so as long as I don't open the fridge during the outage.

Re:I am in a Outage RIGHT NOW with NO Cell Service (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | about 7 years ago | (#21652035)

"You're in a power outage posting to slashdot? Do you have a backup satalite link and generator just in case you lose internet for a few hours?"

Cripes. Does this really need to even be asked? He could simply be at a friend's house or at the library or something. Maybe he took his laptop to Starbucks and logged on there. Maybe he has a generator.

Use your brain, yeesh.

Re:I am in a Outage RIGHT NOW with NO Cell Service (1)

Telecommando (513768) | about 7 years ago | (#21651781)

Hey, I feel for you. Back in `93 (I think, don't quote me), we had an ice storm hit our area pretty hard. Some people were without power for over 2 weeks. And the cell phones were useless after the first couple of hours when the batteries at the towers went dead. Only the police, fire and utilities had any radio communications at the time because they had planned their systems for just this type of emergency.

Oh, some cell sites had generators, but the cell co.'s had assumed they could just grab a gas can at the local hardware store and buy some gas to refill the generators until the utility hooked them back up.

Which would have been fine if the utility didn't have 100K other customers who also needed to be hooked back up. Not to mention that the utility couldn't even get power to their own substations because of all the downed trees and lines. Heck, most roads were impassable because of downed limbs.

And none of the stores in the area that sold gas cans could take checks or credit cards because they didn't have power, cash sales only! And most banks and ATMs were offline as well. As were all the gas stations within a 100 mile radius. It was a mess. Widespread power outages are a bitch. I was fortunate as my power was only out for about 10 hours. We dug out the candles and my kerosene garage heater for the duration.

A co-worker drove 4 hours round-trip to his father-in-law's place just to borrow a generator. When he got home he discovered there wasn't a gas can to be bought nor a gas station open to sell him gas. His borrowed generator was useless. We still give him a hard time at work about that one. There were even some fist fights at the few places that had generators for sale and a couple of stores were gouging people heavily to buy them. Hard times seem to bring out the worst in some people.

Last spring after a storm I was without power for over half a day. I went out and bought a generator the next day but have never had to use it.

Hmm, just checked the weather service at http://radar.weather.gov/Conus/full_loop.php [weather.gov] . Looks like that storm might make it this far after all. I think I'll go fill up both my 5 gallon gas cans.

Good luck to everyone in the storm's path! Hope it doesn't hit you!

Thief Opportunity (3, Interesting)

JavaManJim (946878) | about 7 years ago | (#21651355)

EASY PICKINGS? In Texas and the nearby states like OK, KS, NM, etc, there are zillions of cell towers in the middle of nowhere. What an opportunity for thieves if these all had little generators nearby. I hope a better paradigm that what I describe is used.

NEW CASH COW? Its bad enough in Dallas where miles lights were out along the divided highways in the Summer of 2006 because thieves pulled out the connecting. This was bad in the summer of 2006 and its better now since openings have been welded shut. I can see generators being the new cash cow for thieves.


Re:Thief Opportunity (1)

doon (23278) | about 7 years ago | (#21651831)

Don't laugh. I've worked for a rural telco, and when the power went out, we had enough batteries to run for a bunch of hours (8+) at our remotes. So we had some time before we had to go and put the generators on (they where not automatic, unlike the CO). We had a couple of cases where someone would actually steal the gen off the side of the remote. It had happened enough time, that as part of our y2k plan, we actually had armed members of the line crew set to stand guard at some of the more remote, remotes.

Looting (1)

Tilzs (959354) | about 7 years ago | (#21651395)

Since power and generators in particular are in very short supply after a disaster such as a major hurricane, what is going to prevent people from just looting the generators for their own needs? Seems to me they would be high priority targets. Hey need some way to watch that new flat panel

Re:Looting (1)

headbulb (534102) | about 7 years ago | (#21651621)

The generators are large and bolted to the concrete.

They arn't going to be looted. Then a thief would have to know how to hookup a permanent installation generator. (It could be a 3 phase generator which requires a equal load. On all the phases)

Plus something worth that much would have it's own serial # So if they tried to sell it. They run the risk of getting caught.

But then I have heard stories of people trying to steal copper from live mains. Getting killed in the process.

Re:Looting (1)

Tweekster (949766) | about 7 years ago | (#21651793)

I think you just summed up nicely how the antitheft devices will work.

Re:Looting (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | about 7 years ago | (#21651843)

The simplest way would be to make them provide a non-standard output, and make it clear in the news that the generators are completely useless for anything but running a cell tower.

Re:Looting (1)

RoboRay (735839) | about 7 years ago | (#21652115)

Non-standard output? You mean like 110 volts at 60 Hz?

bzzzt! OW! bzzzzt! OWW! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651405)

hamster 2, bart 0.

Only makes things worse (1)

punka (81040) | about 7 years ago | (#21651447)

If the power was knocked out to a cell phone tower due to a natural disaster, wouldn't the phone lines/trunk also be knocked out? So with battery back ups we'll have a bunch of towers broadcasting with no lines to call out!

Re:Only makes things worse (1)

thegrassyknowl (762218) | about 7 years ago | (#21651575)

If the power was knocked out to a cell phone tower due to a natural disaster, wouldn't the phone lines/trunk also be knocked out

That's not strictly true. Power is often trunked in from considerable distance away. If the natural disaster effects the generation area and not the cell tower then the cell tower can be out even though it still has connectivity to the world.

Further, a lot of cell towers use microwave links to the nearby towers and even back to the phone company base; particularly towers in remote areas. Even if the natural disaster killed out the power the UPS/generator could be sufficiently protected as to keep the tower on the air.

I have to agree with all the other sentiments in this thread. With the impending xmas day any new year pay attention to how difficult it is to get a slot on the tower and also a line out of it when everyone is on the phone saying "hey it's new year here but we're an hour ahead of you isn't it cool we're in different years?".

The same would apply in a disaster situation I am imagining with every man, woman and their dog calling every other man, woman and their dog they know to see who is OK and who isn't.

Re:Only makes things worse (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 7 years ago | (#21651585)

Most wireless towers use wireless backbones - all they need is backup power. The POTS has backup power already.

Re:Only makes things worse (1)

Telecommando (513768) | about 7 years ago | (#21651591)

No. The landline companies have their own battery/generator systems and have had them for years. I don't know if they were ever mandated to have them or if they just considered it good business sense. Even during a major, prolonged, power outage landlines are almost certain to work. Now if the phone lines go down due to storm damage, that's a different story.

Re:Only makes things worse (1)

nwhitehorn (1044658) | about 7 years ago | (#21652179)

The telcos used lead-acid batteries as a filter for the line in addition to back-up. If you have an analog signal riding on top of a constant current source like with POTS, you need an *extremely* stable DC level or else people will hear buzzing. For a very long time (and maybe even now), the cheapest and easiest way to do this was to run the whole system off batteries.

So I think this could be classified as "good business sense", though for reasons completely unrelated to reliability.

Re:Only makes things worse (1)

headbulb (534102) | about 7 years ago | (#21651697)

A cell tower can be any miles of distance away from the central office. A single central office can have a whole city or multiple cities that it covers.

Just because power is out in one town does not mean it would be off in another where that office is located. Even if the power was off where the central office is the equipment there is power backed up. Afterall it's providing service for a large area.

If power goes out in one town and takes out the towers for that town it's annoying, But nothing like having the whole network down.

All telecom equipment is made to be easily backup powered. Running off of 48 volts DC.

ambient power (1, Interesting)

mattr (78516) | about 7 years ago | (#21651459)

They should require some kind of ambient power generation also to be included. Solar cells are well understood perhaps but IIRC they do not have long lifetimes. So either some special long-lifetime solar cell, or something that uses environmental (humidity, electrostatic charge, temperature, gas, wind, etc.) gradients. It only has to be able to provide a very short window of time, perhaps only 30 min. per day, in which it can operate without any input from the power grid. If such a thing exists/can be developed it could be installed in really distant palces without infrastructure too, on an ad-hoc networking basis. I would feel a lot safer especially this would be useful for massive hurricaines and earthquakes, etc. I would not feel so safe if the backup batteries they talk about will run down in a few days, that's not enough time to restore all infrastructure as we have seen.

An option to receive microwave power from planes or from orbit would also be a very smart thing, a tiny rectenna (or just top surface of the battery) ought to do it.

Re:ambient power (2, Insightful)

inKubus (199753) | about 7 years ago | (#21651521)

So you're saying for a worst case situation, where the batteries die, the generators are out of fuel, everything is down--and this solar panel or whatever sits there all day gathering sun and then at a predetermined time it runs the tower for 30 minutes so people can text their parents or whatever. Not bad idea, it would be extremely cheap to implement, and in the worst case scenario, it would continue to allow some communications. Coupled with fuel cell or hand-crank power for the cell phones themselves you could have a fairly reliable temporary 30 minute-per-day communication service.

Re:ambient power (1)

Nethead (1563) | about 7 years ago | (#21651839)

Or you could just look up your local hams and ask one of them to pass a message on for you. We still do that, ya know. Or better, geek, get your ham license.

Re:ambient power (1)

oddaddresstrap (702574) | about 7 years ago | (#21652107)

Solar cells last a long time (20+ years) and as long as the connections are done properly, require little or no maintenance. They can get hammered by hail or by ice falling from higher on the mast, though.

I dont see the theft as an issue. (1)

Jonesy69 (904924) | about 7 years ago | (#21651477)

Gensets that would be 'enterprise class' are big monolithic machines that are most likely not walking away unless equally big machinery is brought in to move them off the concrete pads they are bolted down to.

Its not like its some 1KW 'garage' special we're talking about here.

Furthermore if it did prove to be a problem stick, a renewable source like solar or a wind turbine up on the tower where permissible to lower the risk of theft so only the truly desperate would partake

Probably not an issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651537)

The cell towers in my area already have some kind of power backup. I think that's been the norm for a while now.

Plus, any disaster of hurricane katrina's level will undoubtedly overtax the network bandwidth anyway and most calls will fail.

Re:Probably not an issue (1)

jayp00001 (267507) | about 7 years ago | (#21651609)

Plus, any disaster of hurricane katrina's level will undoubtedly overtax the network bandwidth anyway and most calls will fail.

I don't think that point can be stressed enough. I'd rather see the FCC mandate more bandwidth so that during the first few hours of an emergency at most calls go out rather than the situtation they have mandated which is that the tower will be running without any likelyhood that the calls you need to make will go through.

Australian Cyclone Experience (1)

robbak (775424) | about 7 years ago | (#21651673)

As an Australian who recently cam through a major cyclone (Larry), I too am surprised to learn that Americans were installing mobile phone sites _without_ backup power. If anyone is complaining about the cost to retrofit, then go complain to the person who installed the site without it in the first place!! (Oh, that was you too? Poor little idiot.)
There was major problems with the telephone systems. The landline systems had 24 hour battery backups, but beyond that, they had to rely on workers delivering gen sets to recharge the batteries. Delivery of these was made difficult by flooding in many cases.
There were some cellphone sites out, and, with the large amount of relief work going on, the remaining ones were often congested. (CDMA and GSM were working then).
All told, though, everything was done very well by all concerned. No doubt lessons were learned, but, well, lets go deliver a good, solid larting to anyone who decided _not_ to provide backup power to all telecoms stuff!

Why is it up to the FCC? (1)

log1385 (1199377) | about 7 years ago | (#21651685)

It seems unfair that the FCC gets to tell corporations what to do. Not that a huge fan of large corporations, but I still don't think that the FCC should have that kind of control. If a cell service provider thinks that it's valuable to have backup power, then they will provide backup power themselves.

Re:Why is it up to the FCC? (2, Informative)

T_O_M (149414) | about 7 years ago | (#21651955)

Because the Communications Act of 1934 (and as ammended) requires the FCC to regulate telephone companies as part of Interstate Commerce.
Also because cell phones use radio frequencies, also regulated by the FCC.

Re:Why is it up to the FCC? (1)

PPH (736903) | about 7 years ago | (#21652155)

Because, when the FCC sold (gave away) the licenses to operate such systems using r.f. bandwidth, they did so with certain conditions. I'm not familiar with the exact language of the licenses, but providing emergency communications services is probably in there someplace.

Is it fair for the FCC to impose such a backup power requirement so long after licenses were granted? Maybe, maybe not. The cellular operators should have done some initial analysis to address license obligations for emergency services. If they didn't figure out that, during emergencies, power often goes out, then they probably aren't technically competent to hold the license at all.

Lots o' problems (1)

linuxwrangler (582055) | about 7 years ago | (#21651703)

Having gone through pager/cellular outages in the almost-all-California almost-all-day power outage a few years back as well as through rolling blackouts I applaud this effort. It's even more important as more and more people go wireless only. But it's gonna hoit...

There are already plenty of hand-wringers who try to block any cell site due to "harmful radiation". Now that same group is going to be heading to city hall to complain about noisy/polluting/etc. generators and stacks of batteries full of lead and sulphuric acid.

And to some extent they will have a point. Emergency generators need regular testing - some critical units have weekly test requirements. It might fly in the office complex or industrial area but there are plenty of cell towers hidden in church steeples and residential areas. Others are in the middle of the desert. And no matter where they are, they will need to be regularly tested, maintained and fueled. For some sites like those covering desert areas, solar may prove attractive. In other cases it may be cheaper to just rip out the site if it only provides coverage in some desolate spot.

And where you might get away with a small/medium cabinet for your equipment, now you need to have more space for batteries and easy access for regular replacement or, alternately, a site for a generator, noise enclosure, fuel tank, and access for refuling and maintenance. Rent costs are likely to rise.

It's all going to be passed on to us users anyway. But I would far prefer to pay a tad more for reliability than for cool wallpaper and rad ringtones. Guess I'm getting old.

Good idea, but... (1)

dfm3 (830843) | about 7 years ago | (#21651717)

As a Mississippi resident who came through Katrina, I fully understand the necessity of a working system of cell towers, but it's not just power that's important in an emergency- you also need adequate bandwidth/capacity. Our power was only out for 1-4 days after the storm (depending on the neighborhood), but it was a full two weeks before you could actually dial out and get something other than a "network busy" message.

Admittedly, landlines were no better, but cell service here was already known for it's limited capacity and poor coverage. It didn't help that on top of all the coordination of emergency and relief efforts, everybody had to continually tie up the circuits to let all the relatives know how they were doing.

Even the day before the storm hit, I remember that the cell lines were jammed beyond capacity... nobody could make or receive calls. Landlines worked perfectly fine.

Re:Good idea, but... (1)

Detritus (11846) | about 7 years ago | (#21651919)

Wouldn't SMS help with that? I'd think that one SMS message would use a tiny fraction of the resources needed for a short voice call.

I've dealt with this.... (1)

SamMichaels (213605) | about 7 years ago | (#21651731)

My job requires me to spring into action when disaster strikes. On my way to an unfamiliar site, I was completely lost due to a closed road. Power was off so long the battery backup at the cell tower failed. Luckily, I was able to get there after a whole lot of driving in circles.

We're putting too many eggs in one basket. That's one of the reasons why I'm an amateur radio operator [emergency-radio.org] (ham). If I had my license during the aforementioned problem, I could have easily gotten the other engineer on the airwaves because he's a ham as well.

What's interesting is that there's a HUGE (100kw or bigger) generator about 50 feet from this cell tower which powers the Comcast cable headend (the place that distributes cable to the entire metro area). Maybe they'd finally be able to working something out if the battery issue is pushed.

Whine, Whine, Whine... (2, Interesting)

T_O_M (149414) | about 7 years ago | (#21651909)

..." saying it will cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars to implement the new rules"

Aww,,, Sniff, sniff. I co-manage 5 remote 2-way radio sites and, due to increased power needs, we have to upgrade the backup generator at one of our sites. Our primary electrical contractor quoted $38,000 for a COMPLETE installation: 35KW generator, transfer switch and installation.
And that's for ONE generator. The cellular folks will be buying them by the trainload and should be able to weasel a significant discount.

..." it will be "very difficult" for cellular operators and tower companies to meet the new FCC backup power rule. "It will take a lot of cooperation and innovation,"...
More crap! The electrical connections are the simplest part of the installation. Our contractor installs full-site transfer switches. They connect between the power meter and the disconnect switch or main fuse box. Two electricians do that part in under a day. The generator itself, OTOH, can take up to a week depending if there is a concrete base to be poured, fuel tank and EPA issues. Still, there's nothing new enough here to require "innovation".

Re:Whine, Whine, Whine... (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 7 years ago | (#21651981)

Would you like the translation from marketspeak? Here:

"This is going to be really, really hard and expensive, but we're going to be doing all this clever stuff to make sure it costs MUCH less than it really should. That's why your service fees are only going up by 30%."

solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21651923)

microturbines .. like those produced by Capstone Microturbine (CPST) amazing tech would be perfect.

If they worked together (1)

skintigh2 (456496) | about 7 years ago | (#21652067)

or were forced to pick one standard like in the rest of the world, you wouldn't need 5+ masts in one place, each with it's own backup, all to support all the different proprietary standards.

Where's that invisible hand of the free market that is supposed to magically make our disjointed, antiquated mobile system more efficient than the rest of the world's?

Mod me down for being a commie bastard.

Sounds like a load of FUD to me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#21652147)

From TFA:

The new rules cover most local exchange carriers (LECs) and mobile service providers, who must provide backup power systems for central offices, cell sites, and remote switches and terminals.

From http://aboutus.vzw.com/bestnetwork/network_facts.html [vzw.com] :

The Verizon Wireless network is built for reliability in emergencies, with battery back-up power at all facilities and for additional reliability, generators installed at all switching facilities, and many cell site locations. The company also owns a fleet of portable generators that can be deployed to provide emergency power during extended power outages to those cell sites without permanent generators.

So, let's see, it sounds like for...
...central offices? Yup, batteries already there.
...remote switches? Yup, they've got batteries and generators.
...cell sites? Yup, they've got batteries, and some have generators as well.

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