Two fires and a pair of explosions in a year have prompted AT&T to replace about 17,000 batteries in the backup power supplies for its U-verse television service, according to Reuters.
AT&T said the incidents, all in outdoor telecommunications cabinets, resulted in no injuries and would not affect its plans for the service. The company said there was some damage to surrounding property, although there were no details.
Supplier Out of Business
The lithium-metal-polymer batteries were supplied by Quebec-based Avestor. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2006, the year the first incident was reported. The batteries were still used after the first incident because, according to AT&T, an outside investigator determined that the risk of hazardous failure was as low or lower than similar batteries used by other telecommunications companies.
The most recent incident was in December. A spokesperson for AT&T said that, usually, when there are a few incidents, the telecommunications giant would work with the suppler to correct the situation, but the supplier is now closed. Nickel cadmium-based batteries and valve-regulated lead-acid batteries will be used as replacements.
AT&T said the battery problem would not affect its rollout for the U-verse service, which last year had some downtime when software was installed. U-verse, with about 126,000 customers as of Q3 2007, is an Internet Protocol Television service, which AT&T describes as the only national, 100-percent IPTV service.
U-verse provides access to TV channels and the Internet, and soon it is also expected to provide access to VoIP calls. AT&T said U-verse is being delivered by its expanding fiber-optic network, to which it is adding 40,000 miles of fiber for fiber-to-the-node and fiber-to-the-premises installations.
What's the Price Tag?
Recently, AT&T announced that new interactive services for U-verse were being rolled out in markets such as Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana, and that these would help to differentiate it from cable. The new offerings include the AT&T U-bar, with customizable weather, news and traffic information for a TV screen; a YellowPages.com for searching via TV; and a variety of games.
Bruce McGregor, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, noted that the battery replacement and software problem will not be the key concern for consumers considering U-verse. The key questions, he said, will still be, "What is the service's price tag, and does it offer me a better package than competing telecommunications services?"
AT&T is being very aggressive in trying to ramp up its U-verse service, McGregor said, and it now offers a "compelling package" that is on a par with competitors.
U-verse figures prominently in AT&T's long-term plans. In a statement last fall, the company said that U-verse "reflects AT&T's strategy to become customers' preferred communications and entertainment provider" and that the company intends to deliver integrated services to TVs, PCs and wireless phones.