October 9, 2003 11:37 AM PDT

Kyocera halts phone shipments on blowup report

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Kyocera Wireless has stopped shipping one of its Phantom models of cell phones after an Omaha, Neb., family reported the phone blew up, a company representative said Thursday.

"We are doing this as an absolute precaution until we have all the details of what has happened," the representative said. The company has been conducting a "round-the-clock" investigation after getting some details directly from the family members, but it has yet to examine the remains of the phone itself, the representative said. For now, the company has no plans for a recall.

The phone, model number KE413, wasn't being charged or used when it exploded Monday, the representative said, and no one was injured. Several family members had the phone with them while they were traveling by car.

The family purchased the phone from wireless provider Cricket Wireless, the U.S.-based subsidiary of Leap Wireless International that began selling the phone this summer. Cricket spokesman Jim Seines said the carrier will continue making the phone available to customers. "We're in close contact with Kyocera, and we're currently monitoring that situation," he said. Seines said Cricket decided on its own to continue selling the phone. Kyocera would not comment on its instructions to carriers.

This is the fourth report this week of an exploding handset. Nokia is conducting investigations into reports in Europe that three of its phones have exploded since August, some causing burns and other injuries.

Nokia spokesman Keith Nowak said the Finnish handset maker believes the battery is the culprit in the three incidents it is investigating.

The battery inside two of the three exploding Nokia phones was not the original one, raising the possibility that black-market knockoffs without appropriate safety measures were to blame. But in the third incident, the Nokia phone was using its original battery.

"The battery is the only place this could happen," Nowak said. "There's really nothing much more we can say on this right now. We haven't seen the battery yet."

But Nokia's take on the situation hasn't stopped others from speculating. One theory is that coins or keys are to blame. Electrical designer William E. Hathaway of Kleinschmidt Associates in Pittsfield, Maine, suggests that pocket change or other objects are coming in contact with the metal jacks used to plug phones in to their charger, causing a short that heats up the battery until it explodes.

Hathaway also speculates that vents built into the exploding phones may have been covered as well. Such vents release gasses or heat, but only after a number of other safety precautions fail. Covering those vents, perhaps by jamming a phone into a pocket, might exacerbate the overheating problem caused by the short, Hathaway said.

"It's as good as any idea I've heard so far," Hathaway said.

The Kyocera Wireless representative said "all possibilities are being explored."

 

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