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Prevent a freak-out in a power outage

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Power cuts can happen at any time – they might be a result of damage caused by extreme weather conditions, or just a faulty piece of equipment that decided to cark it and knock out the power in your home, apartment building or entire suburb.

Ideally all power outages would be fixed within a few hours, but sometimes they can last days (that’s when you start worrying about the food in the freezer). When the power goes out, it can be easy to lose your cool a lot more quickly than your fridge.

With a little bit of knowledge and some planning ahead, you can make sure that your telecommunications devices have enough juice left to see you through the outage so you can stay in touch with loved ones and call emergency services if necessary.

humblephone

The humble telephone line

Back in the day, the old rotary dial and analog button handsets didn’t need to be plugged into a power source, just the phone socket on the wall. Without fancy features like LCD screens and wireless connectivity, they could suck the small amount of electricity they needed straight out of the copper phone line. Phone lines typically stay operational during a power cut because their power is supplied via a different electrical grid.

These days, a lot of handsets won’t work without an additional power supply. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) recommends that any landline handsets sold in Australia which won’t work during a power outage should have a warning on the instructions or packaging. If the handset will work (typically with the help of a backup battery) then it should allow you to make calls for at least 30 minutes. To know for sure what your phone is capable of, take a few minutes to check your handset’s user manual or attempt a test call while the power cord is unplugged.

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nbn™ Battery backup

One underrated feature of the nbn™ Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) equipment is the battery backup unit. Fibre networks don’t carry electricity in the same way the copper network does: fibre cables carry light instead. This means that you can’t plug in an analog handset and get it to work. The battery backup unit is a solution to this: if the power goes out and you’ve got an nbn™ Fibre Phone service, then your Fibre Phone will remain available for up to 3-11 hours with approximately 5 hours of usage.

However, this feature isn’t included with other nbn™ technologies such as nbn™ Wireless or Fibre to the Node (FTTN), nor is it in every home with FTTP – the battery backup became an optional feature of a standard installation from October 2014 onwards. If your home has iiNet nbn™ FTTP but no battery backup installed, you can give us a call on 13 22 58 and we’ll help you get this hardware added to your nbn™ Connection Box. Other users may need (or simply prefer) to rely on their mobile phones instead.

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Mobile and portable chargers

It’s hard to dispute the fact that when the power goes down, your mobile phone can become one of your most important communication tools. Even if the blackout has cut power to your local mobile tower, it’s extremely likely that the tower has power reserves to keep it running for a few days. However, the problem with a lot of modern smartphones with huge screens and apps running constantly in the background is that they have short battery lives – sometimes just one day or less. Even if you turn off all the extra bells and whistles, it might not be enough to make your battery stretch for as long as you need it to.

You can pick up an iiNet mobile SIM card to fit any kind of mobile handset you might have here, but another purchase you may want to consider is a power bank. It’s a small, portable device that basically acts like a big battery – when your phone runs out of juice, plug it into the power bank and it will recharge without needing to be plugged into the mains. There are a range of sizes available (just ask at your local electronics shop) including power banks which will charge other devices such as laptops and tablets. Apart from being a convenience when you’re out and about, they can also be a life saver in the event of an emergency.

Have you got any tips for dealing with a power cut? Let us know in the comments.

Image credits

46 comments

  1. Clarrie Price. says:

    If there is a car in the family then it’s easy to use the car battery with an adapter in cases of emergency

  2. Bruce Gibbs says:

    Simply plug your mobile phone into your car charger and leave your ignition key switched on until your phone is recharged.

  3. You can always charge your mobile with the once was a cigarette lighter in your car, the connector cable is not expensive and recharge doesn’t take long, just go for a drive to where there is power so you can have a coffee from the drive through…!!

  4. paul says:

    do what i did. i bought a 15 kva genny and its under the house. elec. start and runs the whole show here. less than 500 bucks and worth every cent when the power is gone.

  5. Ross the sparks. says:

    Most cordless phones can be powered from the USB on your laptop In emergencies. USB is 5 volts. If 12 volts is required use car battery. Even torch batteries can be used by taping together, each battery is 1.5 volts and if you stack three you get 4.5volts. Square lantern batteries are 6 volts. It does not matter if the voltage is 1 or 2 volts out. Ask any technician to set up alternatives before the blackout. I personally bought a 12 volt to 240 volt invertor for less than $50 that allows me to have 240v ac from my car. It means I can charge my laptop when I am on a trip.

  6. Steven says:

    When the mains power goes off an analogue (or FTTN) phone will continue to be powered externally, and thus work. Our laptops run off batteries which are kept charged when we are connected to the mains, but the modem which allows us to connect our working laptops to the internet, via the phone line which is also working, fails because, unlike the laptop, it has no battery backup. Why does this basic component continue to be missing?

  7. Ginny Black says:

    When power is turned off which was recently done, I have no water,no land line, the clock for my watering system now comes on at the wrong time, the clock for auto pool equipment means that it all comes on 6 or 7 hours later, this also means a cold pool. My lift goes off and will not work so I need to get a man from Brisbane to start it again this turns out to be all very expensive.

  8. James says:

    You forget to mention that from now on, millions of people will need to buy a new battery for their nbn unit around every three years, otherwise they won’t have comms in a blackout.
    And – there is a good chance that the power blackout will knockout the mobile towers near you, especially if it is a long blackout, so don’t rely on your mobile.
    So little thought was given to this $50 billion toy that could have been used to build a lot of hospitals.

  9. D. McCarthy says:

    You can also re-charge your mobile phone during a blackout by pluging it into your car cig lighter plug. There is a USB adapter for this. This will charge your phone very quickly.The car has only to idle – you don’t have to drive anywhere if you don’t want to.

  10. Charles Stewart says:

    All fine with people with NBN, I live in a suburb which is classified as Perth and have been informed it won’t be available until 2020 and fibre to the node is a waste of cable space. I hear that NZ had run out NBN to the node and went back and reconnected everyone to the home. I can see the same thing happening here in a couple of years, then, our suburb will again be shunted to the end. We were informed firstly that it was to be run out at the end of this year, now it is years down the track, maybe never. So giving me tips on how to use the NBN is again a waste of space.

  11. Frank Long says:

    NBN battery useless because I have a net phone.
    Also Panasonic base station needs power to communicate with digital remote phones.
    Can a power pack drive a Boblite modem including its wifi and provide internet access to Smart phone and tablet.

  12. Tony says:

    Solar powered battery banks are cheap and available on the Net. Get one to keep your phone or other USB devices powered for days.

  13. wayne wells says:

    I have a touch that i wind up to make it work.No batteries needed.Works any time.Its got a radio in it too.

  14. Bev says:

    You can always use your car to charge your phone with the motor running if you have petrol!!

  15. Robin says:

    After all this time someone has the nouse & intestinal fortitude to inform the issues relating when electricity supply is interrupted causing those NBN power outrages to the home phone / internet. Well done iinet

  16. John Findlay says:

    All of the above is redundant to me. The house is on solar via a 45 KW (90 KW, 45 KW usable without damaging the batteries) battery pack. Everything bar the 2 A/C units are battery powered at 240 V. Plus I have a genset that plugs into the house through the switchboard.

  17. It appears NBN FTTN will not commence for three years, hell I’m 72 Hope it’s here in my lifetime . Will the node stay active in a power outage? I still have an old phone connected for emergencies. I also have a backup generator and a solar battery system providing lighting and power for the main TV.

  18. Tim Herne says:

    Keep your wireless modem, VOIP ATA, cordless telephone base, etc energised with a uninterruptible power supply – an inverter with a big battery built in. Normally used with computers to give 10-15 mins to save files, the low power needs of a modem will give you an hour or so of browsing. This will let you look at your energy company’s website for information about the outage and likely duration. Or to email/call them to report the problem.

  19. Mel Johnson says:

    Re-charge you mobile off the car’s cigarette socket.

  20. Celia says:

    Solar chargers seem to tick the boxes

  21. John Carswell says:

    Why not charge your mobile from your car cigarette lighter during a power outage?

    Also with FTTN why can’t I use a back up generator to power the modem during a power outage ?.

    Is all this “wonderful technology” sending us backwards , ie no inherent power supply & lesser quality digital sound on FTTN. phones ?.

  22. Mary Francis says:

    Hello.
    I am not trying to be a smarty pants, but there is a spelling error in your Mobile and portable chargers article.
    I would suggest this be rectified.
    Such a big company should be a little more thorough before publishing articles.
    Thank you

    • Jade Smit says:

      Hey Mary!

      Thanks for getting in touch, appreciate the heads up about the spelling error, we have since edited the post.

      – Jade

  23. Bob Harvey says:

    The NBN battery backup only supplies power to the fibre phone service. If you use VOIP (which most people do then it is a waste of energy and money. Sorry Gina but it is hardly an underrated feature of the NBN FTTP service.

  24. Ken Stewart says:

    Mobiles can also be charged in your car as well, but the mobile towers will go out in a few hours anyway until they get generators in. Put all perishables in your freezer and only open it to get food out for meals. Food should last 3-4 days. Try to share a generator with a friend, neighbour, or relation and put it on your freezer for 6 hours every couple of days. We got through TC Marcia with no power for 7 days without losing anything.

  25. Peter says:

    We had the strange experience of a “brown-out” where there were lights on the front of appliances like washing machines and the garage roller door, but not enough power to make them wash etc. This left us worried that a number of our appliances had failed on the same day. When it became a power outage it dawned on us what the problem had been.

  26. Power Cuts – If they go for longer than 30 mins my solution is to get out either my 2000 watt inverter generator run a lead into the house to a power board or, get the 5 kVa gen set and plug into the socket on the power board, throw the mains isolating switch and start the gen set – Presto we have power to run refrigerators and phones etc!

  27. Kay Deaves says:

    I have a flashlight/AM/FM radio which has solar panels and a winding handle to charge and a cable with a USB port which can be used to charge a mobile phone or computer if no power is available.

  28. Doug Raper says:

    Interesting reading good information

  29. Faye says:

    Sounds good, but my iinet phone installation bypasses the NBN battery back-up for some strange reason. So what do you suggest??

  30. Dick Holroyde says:

    I have NBN FTTN & no mobile phone.
    What is your advice to do in times of power failure.

    Please DON’;TR advise me to get a mobile phone

  31. Keith King says:

    in a mains power outage,oldies like me,76,rely on charging old style mobiles,etc,by a charger which fits ciggie lighter socket in car,and can be bought with changeable “multiple pins “for various mobile sockets,etc.Ï think you can still buy “wind up”by hand chargers-good if in bush or no car at home.Hope this helps

  32. Leigh says:

    I use a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) to run my PC so it doesn’t crash in a power failure. I can either shut down the PC in an orderly manner or continue using it for a short time. Recently during a power failure I ran an extension lead from the UPS to the NBN modem (FTTN)and also to the base unit of my cordless phones. Bingo! the phone and internet was working again.

  33. Malcom says:

    A question. Does the internet and phone service continue to operate if I can power the iinet HG658 VDSL modem from a battery? Copper to the node which is mounted on a power pole. No point powering the phone and modem if the local node is not powered.

  34. George says:

    NBN has misled us all. I have fibre to the house. My landline phone does not work without power from the net, neither does my modem. I do have a battery back up with NBN however it does not work, because my modem and phone need power which the battery back up does not really supply. An uninterruptable power supply that lasts a few hours costs $400.-. too expensive. I could replace my phone system by buying a system whose base works off rechargeable batteries. If I had a laptop it can apparently work off the NBN battery back up. NBN is supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread, however they did not tell us that we would have to buy a lot of new equipment to enable it to always work, like the copper wire system always did. NBN is not fast at all, in fact it is slower than my ADSL 2+ was. They did not tell us that to obtain the advertised extremely high speed I would have to sign up to a very expensive plan. I thank all the comments about using my car battery to charge things, but again I would have to buy stuff. Even if not expensive that does not matter. We were fooled in believing all the NBN promises. We did not ask for NBN yet we are faced with lots of expenses to make it actually work 24/7. I am not worried about not having access to the Internet but I must have access to a working phone for emergencies. This is why I opted for the battery back up in the first place !
    How do I inform my ISP about a problem if I can’t phone it ?

  35. Robert Barham says:

    We have a ‘wall phone’ and it used to work during power failures. For the last couple of years the phone is ‘dead’ during power failures. Neighbours in Brigadoon report that they experience the same problem; their wall phones which previously worked during power failures don’t work now during power outages.

    I reported the problem a couple of years ago to Telstra who told me to contact my provider, iiNet. iiNet told me to contact Telstra. I contacted Telstra again with no joy. I told them that I suspect a backup battery in the local exchange isn’t working. Over to you again iiNet but I won’t hold my breath though.

  36. Mike Hurburgh says:

    One aspect of a power failure that is often not considered is the effect on people who have medical/security alarm systems connected to the phone line. Most alarms have a backup battery which should last 3 or more days, but the NBN backup batteries currently being installed will only last a few hours. So after a few hours without power the alarm works ok, but the phone line is dead! The original backup batteries used by the NBN lasted much longer, but they changed the specs and the supplier!?! So now there is a program in progress to swap over the alarms that would otherwise be connected to the NBN to alarms which use the mobile phone network. With the new alarms worth about $400, this is probably costing someone (the government?) more than $1000 per alarm. Very sound reasoning!?! So if you know someone with a medical alarm please check on them if there is a power failure in your area.

  37. George says:

    We have a rechargeable jump start battery in the boot of the car. It has a cigarette lighter outlet so you can charge phones, or even watch your favourite TV program with a 12v spare TV

  38. Alan Nosworthy says:

    not being mains connected this is a snapshot of my everyday. Unfortunately, not being mains connected means that no solar subsidies are applicable. Hard to see logic in that.

  39. Kathryn says:

    For customers like me with a monthly pre-paid quota please DON’T cut off the mobile service when it reaches 100% during a power outage. In last year’s storms my mobile service was actively disconnected by Westnet because I reached the maximum call quota for the month. I live alone, am a senior, and with neither power nor mobile service it was one of the most frightening scenarios imaginable.

  40. Finn Stelmach says:

    Being older has its advantages, we learned early to be prepared for anything and just do something.
    I simply opened the shed ( we all used to have sheds) and wheeled out the 2400 watt generator, grabbed a handful of extension leads and ,presto, we had power to spare.

  41. Bill Adamson says:

    We just had a S.A. state-wide power outage (28/9/16). My VOIP fone went down. our 2 mobile fones useless as the mobile system got overloaded. I’m FURIOUS. We are both in our late 70’s and were completely isolated. What century is this??? When we had copper landlines at least we had communication to safety.
    So to all the advice re keeping everything charged up with “this and that”, is useless as we had all that covered but still were isolated. Would like an answer from some clever person. Thanx

  42. Annie Jury says:

    This week all power was cut to South Australia. I could not use my mobiles on the Telstra or Optus networks either as they went down too, as did my iiNet VOIP phone and internet service. This discussion about whether your phones are charged or not is not relevant. SA has the highest cost of electricity in the country and we are being blamed by the powers that be for moving towards renewable energy even to the point where they tried to claim that this was the cause of the blackout. Do they really think we are that stupid? The system (and the government) is stone age!

  43. Ann McGlynn says:

    I live in a rural area of Sydney, only 50kms from CBD, where the phone lines are still strung between telegraph poles. Power and/or phone outages are a regular occurrence and we are quite adjusted to the fact that occasionally we simply do without many of life’s niceties. These outages can range from hours to days. Since the advent of the smart-phone we have, at least, been able to remain in-touch with the real world. As for the NBN? A dream…

  44. Ken Jordan says:

    Just a note re old wire telephone line. They do not use a “different grid” (as stated in the text), but have a central battery of 48VDC in the exchange that your line is connected to. Also, they have a backup alternator to charge the batteries if there is a mains outage. I still have an old style Telstra phone that works on central battery, even in a blackout.

  45. Natalie Gimm says:

    A good practice when the power goes out is to go around and turn off all the lights and power switches (especially to large power drawing items such as fridges). This will avoid a huge instant power draw on your switchboard when the power comes back on, that can cause it to trip. Also unplug technology devices so that any power surge does not affect them (unless you have a surge protector). [My dad’s a sparkie and taught me this many years ago!]

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