Monday, October 17, 2016

Samsung Self-Tested Batteries In Galaxy Note 7 Phone

Apple, other handset manufacturers use third-party labs certified by U.S. wireless industry’s trade group.


By Ryan Knutson and Eun-Young Jeong
The Wall Street Journal
October 17, 2016

The batteries used in Samsung Electronics Co.’s troubled Galaxy Note 7 were tested by a lab that belongs to the South Korean electronics giant, a practice that sets it apart from other smartphone manufacturers.

To sell smartphones at major U.S. carriers, phone makers are required to test phone batteries at one of the 28 labs certified by the U.S. wireless industry’s trade group, the CTIA, to ensure compliance with standards set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Samsung is the only such manufacturer using in-house battery-testing facilities for CTIA certification, according to the association.

Samsung’s battery crisis has put a spotlight on cellphone battery testing, an otherwise mundane corner of a global industry that shipped some 1.9 billion units last year, according to research firm Gartner.

A spokesman for Samsung said its internal testing labs didn’t reveal any problems in the original and replacement Galaxy Note 7 phones. The device was recalled last month and then discontinued last week after original and replacement units caught fire.

Apple Inc. said it uses third-party CTIA-certified labs to test its batteries. Huawei Technologies Co. didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Lenovo Group Ltd.’s Motorola and Microsoft Corp.’s Nokia have operated CTIA-certified battery labs, though the association says both labs are being closed. Motorola said it tests batteries at its own labs but uses third-party labs for CTIA certification. Microsoft declined to comment.

In a statement Friday, Samsung said its plans to make “significant changes” in its quality-assurance processes in light of the Note 7 crisis. Samsung declined to comment on whether it has plans to use third-party labs for battery testing.

Tom Sawanobori, the chief technology officer at the CTIA, said the association audits test labs to ensure personnel are qualified, that they comply with standards, and that there is no undue influence from manufacturers. Test labs are typically in separate facilities and under separate control, he said.

“We’ve certified over 1,500 batteries,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve had an issue.”

Last week, engineers from CTIA certification labs gathered in Atlanta for an annual meetup. While the scuttlebutt was focused on what could be behind the Note 7’s battery problem, a CTIA representative told the gathering that neither the group nor Samsung would discuss it, two attendees said.

In the early 2000s, as cellphones were proliferating around the globe, a flood of cheap batteries from inexperienced manufacturers caused increasing failures, battery experts say. In response, the CTIA, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the IEEE worked together in 2005 to create a voluntary program for battery testing, which the CTIA administers.

Eddie Forouzan, a member of the IEEE committee that developed the battery standard, says the process significantly reduced problems, and that safety failure rates in cellphone batteries went from being measured by the parts per million to the parts per billion. There have been at least 92 reports of batteries overheating in the Note 7, which went on sale in August.

Mr. Forouzan, who now runs his own lab in San Diego, says letting manufacturers test their own phones creates the potential for conflicts of interest.

John Copeland, who used to work for Motorola’s lab and now helps run a test lab in Atlanta, said it was normal for cellphone makers to use their own labs because it helps the companies protect trade secrets.

Phone makers are “very concerned about their proprietary information leaking out,” he said. Mr. Copeland said the audits were sufficient to ensure there wasn’t a conflict of interest.

Jason Howard, chair of the IEEE working group that wrote the battery certification standard, said that “on the outside that might make people nervous that a company is self certifying, but that’s common practice on a lot of standards.” Companies that use their own labs can get products out to market faster than if they had to wait in a queue at an outside test lab, Mr. Howard said.

Samsung has been testing phones at its internal CTIA-certified lab since 2009.

For CTIA certification, smartphone batteries are tested on their own and while being operated inside a device, says Kim Tae-young,director at the Korea Testing Laboratory, the only other CTIA-certified battery testing lab in South Korea. The tests mainly focus on whether batteries work properly while a phone is being charged or used for calls, which is when they are most likely to heat up. “We also put batteries in high temperatures that simulate summer conditions to monitor potential overheating or combustion hazards,” he said

A spokesman for Samsung said Thursday that it is “working around the clock” to identify causes for why some Note 7 devices caught fire and that it was “premature” to speculate on investigation outcomes.

Mr. Forouzan said he hopes Samsung quickly releases details about how the batteries failed so experts can determine if safety tests need to be improved. “They have to tell us what happened so we can fix it.”


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