Saturday, February 03, 2007

Verizon FiOS: Power IS an Issue

Continuing my series on Verizon FiOS, you may recall from my first post an observation that the ONT has a battery backup for the phone line, but the router would require its own UPS to maintain an Internet connection during a power failure, as would the attached televisions.

I see now this speculation was only that, but in a very negative way. I recently found myself in a position to test this speculation, and was unhappy with what I learned.

It isn't a power issue; it's designed that way

On a recent afternoon, Bocona flipped a light switch in the master bath and a light bulb dramatically failed. The bulb apparently had a hot spot and literally blew out, not only failing the light but also the circuit, tripping a breaker. This breaker controlled the master bath, the master bedroom, the guest bath, and half of the guest bedroom (aka, my office). Bocona, of course, noticed the bulb failure in the master bath and switched to the guest bath, where she discovered the light was also dysfunctional. She did not recognize the power failure, however. She called me to tell me the lights had gone out in both baths, asking me to pick up replacement bulbs on my way home.

When I got home, the story became more complicated. Bocona reported the TV service had failed; all she could watch was shows recorded on the DVR. Both the TV and the DVR functioned fine, but we had no live programming. I asked her to check the TV in the master bedroom while I called Verizon Support to report the outage. Before I got a human on the line, however, she called out to tell me the power was out in the master bedroom.

This got me thinking, and I went to my office. As I expected, everything in my office worked except the power outlet the ONT's power supply was using. The Actiontec router was looking very normal, but the battery backup's status lights showed the ONT was running on battery.

Now, remember, Verizon said the battery backup existed to ensure phone service during a power outage. The phone was working (I had started to use it to call for support), but even though the router had its independent power and was showing good service, the DVR was not receiving a TV signal.

I went to the breaker box and reset the tripped breaker, and returned to my office. The ONT successfully returned to household current. Next we tried the TV, but found no improvement. On a hunch, I power cycled the router, and after a few moments the TV service was restored.

My disappointing conclusion was that investment in UPSes for the router and the TV/set-top boxes would be mostly wasted. The battery backup does exactly what Verizon promises: it permits the ONT to maintain the phone service.

It does not permit the ONT to maintain the TV service, on the possibility I could maintain power to the televisions and set-top boxes. Alas, I did not check the Internet connection, although the experiment would be easy to duplicate.

A workaround

I'm not crazy about the idea, but there is still, theoretically, another way around this. What I would have to do is put a very good UPS on the power outlet used to feed the ONT, then plug the ONT/battery backup into this UPS. In theory, the ONT would then be unaware of the power failure as long as the UPS functioned, and the ONT wouldn't cut off the other services until the UPS died. In hurricane threatened communities, this might be appropriate, but I'd like to get a power professional's opinion before making the investment... or even better, an opinion from a knowledgeable Verizon FiOS technician (not necessarily equated to Verizon FiOS support).

If I learn anything new, I'll be sure to share. Meanwhile, feel free to visit to share your favorite news and technology links.