It’s been several months since reports of Note 7 phones catching fire first emerged. Samsung has yet to disclose specific details regarding why the Note 7 phones were catching fire, other than vaguely claiming that a defective set of batteries were at fault. It’s possible that Samsung’s in-house testing of the Note 7 batteries contributed to the disaster, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Samsung Self-Tested the Galaxy Note 7 Batteries
Phone manufacturers are required by U.S. law to test all batteries at a lab certified by CTIA, the industry trade group also known as The Wireless Association. There are 28 third-party labs CTIA certifies that companies like Apple use to test phone batteries. Samsung, in an almost unheard of practice, had self-tested the Galaxy Note 7 batteries at a lab owned by the company.
Testing phone batteries at certified labs ensures that the batteries, which can become highly volatile even by a small error, comply with the safety standards set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). By circumventing this practice, Samsung may have sowed the seeds that led to the Note 7 recall catastrophe.
CTIA told news media that Samsung is the only company the association is aware of to self-test batteries.
Samsung says that the company’s in-house lab didn’t discover any inherent problems in the original Note 7 phone battery, or the subsequent replacement. Many reports of these batteries starting to smoke and catch fire certainly bring Samsung’s in-house lab’s battery testing capabilities into question.
Battery Testing Comes Under Scrutiny
Before the Note 7 recall debacle, no one really cared about how electronics makers quality tested their products. Cellphone battery testing is hardly exciting, even though it’s crucial to the global smartphone industry that ships close to 2 billion units each year.
Apple and Lenovo Motorola use third-party labs to test batteries for CTIA certification, the companies told media. Samsung’s in-house battery testing practice seems to be unique to the company.
The CTIA makes sure that battery testing facilities comply with industry standards and are run by qualified personnel. The association also ensures that the labs do not come under any undue pressure from manufacturers to approve a product that shouldn’t be available in the market. The labs are controlled and located separately to avoid such collusion.
In recent times, CTIA has certified over 1,500 batteries, but the Note 7 crisis was the first time the association saw an issue, the chief tech office of the CTIA told media.
Battery testing became standard industry practice after bad batteries in the early days of the phone industry caused serious failures. Last week, CTIA engineers met for an annual gathering, which was focused on discussing what could have gone wrong with Samsung’s Note 7 phone batteries.
After battery testing became standardized, battery failures have drastically reduced to parts per billion (meaning very low numbers of incidents). The Note 7 has received close to a 100 reports of battery failures since August, a number that is unheard of in recent times.
Though the internal lab Samsung tested its batteries were CTIA-certified, the in-house management may have led to possible conflicts of interest. Most phone manufacturers want big releases like the Note 7 rolled out into the market fast. That level of pressure could unduly influence an unbiased battery testing report.
Details Still Unclear
CTIA labs test batteries to make sure they work properly while being charged and while being used for calls. These are the two scenarios in which batteries are most likely to overheat and catch fire. The CTIA labs also test batteries under high temperatures to see if they can withstand summer heat.
Samsung has admitted that company’s engineers have been unable to replicate the problem consumers have been facing with Note 7 batteries at laboratory settings. The testing phones had not caught fire even under high temperatures. So far, the company has not been able to identify the problem with the Note 7 phones.
Samsung’s public relations employees told media that the smartphone giant is “working around the clock” to isolate the problem.
CTIA hopes that Samsung releases its findings so other engineers can incorporate the results into safety testing. Whatever is causing the Note 7 phone to go up in flames ultimately affects the smartphone industry as a whole, not just Samsung.