By Alex Rawitz, Business Development Manager, Servato
New Trends Re-Energize
Monitoring battery performance and health is essential to optimizing backup system maintenance.
Lead-acid batteries have in the last few decades, earned considerably less attention than their lithium-ion
(Li-ion) based brethren. Li-ion batteries fill our consumer
devices, enable green energy and distributed grid
applications, and store energy for the electric vehicles
(EVs) promised to transform our future.
Unbeknown to most people, tens of millions of lead-acid batteries are in use across the country protecting
some of our most vital infrastructure: telecommunications
networks. However, these tens of millions of batteries are
today not adequately maintained, and they represent a
point of systematic risk in telecom networks nationwide.
By applying the tech industry’s hottest topics—big data,
automation, and Internet of Things (Io T)—the risk can be
converted into a layer of confidence in network reliability
Where is the Risk and Why Does it Exist?
Telecom networks are organized into seven layers from
the customer’s end device—Layer 1 (a cellphone or
laptop, any device being used to connect to the internet)
all the way to data centers and servers, where digital
services are being provided (Layer 7). Most customers
are not aware of the layers between them and the data
center, but pretty much every piece of equipment in the
middle layers is backed up by a lead-acid battery of some
kind. Every cell tower (or their analog for broadband, field
cabinets, and central offices) has anywhere from a handful
to dozens of batteries to ensure that service is available,
even if power to the site is lost.
The number of sites with backup batteries that carriers
are responsible for maintaining is in the millions. For
decades, there was no alternative to the time-consuming
manual testing process that ensured these backup power
systems were ready. Today, manual testing is still the
predominant operation but it is so time consuming and
carriers are so short staffed, they are lucky to even test
their batteries in the last 12 to 18 months.
To make matters worse, the grid itself is posing more
of a problem as it ages, and energy demands increase.
Power outages are on the rise—in 2009, the United
States had fewer than 3000 power outages. Just seven
years later that number hit 3879, and while 2017
numbers have not been fully calculated, it appears
the country may have topped 4000. Couple these
outages with the latest cost estimates of downtime—
approximately $9000 per minute—and the problem is
Big Data and Connectivity to the Rescue
One strange quirk of the telecom industry in the modern
age is that for all the hype around connected objects,
smart homes, and Io T, very little of the actual internet
infrastructure is connected. Carriers are now changing
that, and while battery monitoring is not new technology,
investment has been minimal and most of the millions
of backup power systems within telecom networks have
In addition to the pressure on carriers to improve
resiliency and reliability in the face of a more troublesome
energy grid, advancements in battery monitoring and
management are making the business case for investment
better every day. Battery analytics are one of the driving
factors. Of course, to perform useful data analysis, we
need to be sure we are working with useful data. Today,
the ability to collect and analyze battery data is a reality.
It may seem obvious to say that good analytics requires
good battery data, but battery behavior is simple. The
electromechanical nature of batteries makes their
behavior fundamentally more unpredictable than other
systems. At times, batteries can give clear indicators
they are trending toward failure, sometimes six months
in advance. Other times, a perfectly healthy battery can
speed through phases of degradation, and fail in a matter
One crucial measure of a battery’s State of Health
(SoH) is the Open Circuit Voltage (OCV). OCV is the
measure of a battery’s voltage when it has been removed
from the charging bus—in other words, the battery is at
rest. OCV is important because it indicates the battery’s
ability of holding onto the charge put, and provide
power during an outage. This measure is rarely recorded
by technicians since there is no easy way to disconnect
backup batteries from the charging bus.
When OCV (and a host of other measures) are
recorded, there is a lot that can be gleaned in the data.