We’ve all felt the pain. That feeling when you look at your phone and the battery level is all the way into the red, when you start thinking “This never happened with my old Nokia/Samsung/Sony Ericsson a couple of years ago”. So when I read that a Massachusetts-based company, Eta Devices (co-founded by two MIT professors, Joel Dawson and David Perreault) have found a way to reduce battery consumption by 50%, I start to cheer up.
Sure, new phones like the iPhone 5 and the HTC One X, with its quad-core CPU clocked at 1.7 GHz is the bees knees, but if it won’t let you last the day without plugging it into a charger, it takes the mobility out of the mobile phone. So far, manufacturers have taken advantage of the new trend towards larger screens by packing bigger batteries inside but that also makes the phone heavier.
Powering those bigger screens is one of the biggest battery hogs, but Eta have focused on another part entirely. They focused on the power amplifier. This is used to convert your phones’ battery power into the cellular signal to communicate with all those base stations we see but never really notice. The current system uses an incredibly inefficient system that apparently wastes more than 65% of their energy, but a new amplifier design is being developed with the catchy appellation of asymmetric multilevel outphasing. Obvious when you think about it, right?
The same issue lies within those aforementioned base stations. MIT claims that it uses about 1% of all energy production on the planet, which works out to around $36 billion this year. Unfortunately this is still ‘lab-bench’ technology, however if its proved commercially viable, hopefully next year, the tech would start rolling out to LTE base stations and slash their energy use by half.
Why do you care? Because the same technology could find its way onto a chip in your phone, which means that your battery life could double.
“There really has been no significant advance in this area for years,” says Vanu Bose, founder of Vanu, a wireless technology startup. “If you get 30 to 35 percent efficiency with today’s amplifiers, you are doing really well. But they can more than double that.”
“It means you are pulling a lot of energy just to keep the thing on,” says Dawson. And the more data you need to send, the worse it gets. “With high data rate communication, you wind up needing far more standby power than signal power. This is why the phone is warm,” he says.