If you are a customer of Vermont Telephone Company (VTel), were recently or are about to be switched over to fiber, and live off-grid, here is some information that might be useful for you.
There are a lot of rumors floating around about the power requirements of the equipment that is necessary to convert the light pulses from the fiber optics to analog signals that your phone and data equipment use. There are three pieces of equipment that VTel will provide for your use (they still own this equipment): the ONT (Optical Network Terminal – external box that converts the light signal to analog), the UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply – battery backup unit that provides power to the ONT and allows phone use during power outages), and the router (used for providing internet).
The ONT operates on 12 volts DC, and uses approximately 0.4 amps of current. This power comes from the UPS, which operates on 120 volts AC, and uses around 0.56 amps of current. The router operates on 120 volts AC, and is not required for phone use, just internet (data).
One feature of the UPS is that if grid power is lost, it cuts the data feed to the router to conserve battery power. The battery is supposed to last for eight hours or so, enabling you to still use the phone when the power is down. There is an option for adding additional battery packs to the UPS to extend the battery life.
When I first spoke with VTel about fiber and was told about the UPS, I suggested that since I am off grid, I would not need that piece of equipment. As you know, VTel is completing this project using grant money, and they are doing what they need to do to get it done within the constraints of the grant. During the early stages of the project, they were focused on getting things done in a linear fashion, and thought they would work out the bugs at a later time. Now that they are connecting everyone to the new system, they are dealing with problems as they arise. I am sure the people I spoke with early on did not know the specifics of the equipment that would be installed, just some general knowledge.
If you live off the grid, you know that every electron you use is precious. Power comes at a cost, and there is none to waste. You see the futility and waste in converting DC (at whatever voltage) to AC, and then back to DC again. If you could eliminate this waste, you would have more power to use on other important things. Powering a system that operates on DC from a DC power supply makes sense.
VTel is in the process of determining what the manufacturer will allow regarding powering their equipment. Since the equipment uses 12 volts DC, it should be fairly simple to power it directly from a battery bank. A couple of wires, a fuse, and the appropriate know-how would get the ONT operating in short order. However, from VTel’s perspective, since they own the equipment, if it gets fried, or is used in a manner not approved by the manufacturer and ceases to work, it will cost them money to repair the damage or replace the unit. I think they are working to get answers to questions about off-grid use, but it will take time. Also, VTel uses information from the UPS and ONT to determine the status of the system, such as if the unit is on battery power. This enables them to monitor your system to determine if there is a problem they need to correct.
In the meantime, here are some suggestions to consider (use them at your own risk! – numbers 2 and 3 are NOT approved by VTel):
- If your system is large enough, use the system as designed and installed by VTel. Ours uses around 7.5 watts on a continuous basis to power the UPS and ONT, plus a little more for the router;
- If your internet use is not constant, you can unplug the UPS from AC power, and it will continue to operate the phone, but not the internet. When you need internet, or have extra power, plug the UPS into the wall, and let it charge the battery while you use the internet. This may actually use more power than leaving it plugged in all the time;
- You can leave the UPS unplugged from AC power, but tie the UPS into your battery bank with wires, a fuse, and a Molex plug, connecting it to your batteries so you get 12 volts. If you have 12 volt batteries, you would connect it to the terminals on one battery; if 6 volt batteries, you would connect it to the terminals of two batteries; if 2 volt batteries, connect it to six batteries. CAUTION: Make sure you test the voltage at the end of your wires before connecting to the UPS! If you take this approach, you should rotate the terminals from battery to battery every few weeks so you are not continually drawing power from one battery or set.
If you do not have AC power (which VTel will require when they install the system), you can easily build a system using a 12-volt battery and a small inverter. Since the entire fiber system requires less than 10 watts, a simple inverter for a car would be sufficient. If you need to add a solar component, a 10- to 15-watt solar charger would work. This system can be purchased for under $250, depending on the size battery you get. A solar panel with built-in charger is available for $50 or so, an inverter for around $25, and a battery for around $75. We can help with specifics for your system, or can provide a complete system for you.
VTel is in the process of developing an acceptable method for off-grid customers to power their equipment in a manner that should work for most people. We will provide more details as they become available.
Thanks for reading this post. If you have questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will not spam you, ever.
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