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November 02, 2012

MIT Spinoff Power Technology May Soon Double Smartphone Battery Life

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

One of the great problems around mobile devices today is battery technology. While the other systems that comprise a smartphone's inner workings – processors, storage and the like – have seen substantial gains in their overall capability, battery technology has proven something of a laggard.

But an MIT (News - Alert) spinoff group, ETA Devices, recently found just the thing to make the best of a bad situation and give smartphone batteries twice the life they currently have.

The answer lies not so much in new battery technology, but rather in a new kind of power amplifier that can use a lot less power to do the same things. A power amplifier is at once a necessity and a waste, converting electricity into radio signals so digital data can be sent. It has two operating modes, standby and output signal, and in both cases it's using power. 

While some have sought to reduce the amount of power the power amplifier uses in standby mode –which would seem to be a good place to find some power savings – it's not that simple.

Power amplifier chips waste about 65 percent of the total energy they consume, but simply stepping down the consumption in standby doesn't always work. Signal quality can be affected if the amplifier suddenly spikes in power consumption, as it would going from a lowered standby mode to a fully-active mode.

Therefore, current technology keeps standby power use high, so as not to jar the system. But ETA Devices' design, called "asymmetric multilevel outphasing," allows for standby power to drop significantly but not affect transmission quality when ramping up, reducing the overall power required to run the system.

Better still, this isn't the first such system to emerge, giving us the best chance at power consumption drops in smartphones and producing subsequent battery savings.

ETA Devices expects to formally launch the product during the Mobile World Congress show this February in Barcelona, though it's still under development with the expectation of getting it into LTE (News - Alert) base stations sometime in 2013. As for when this technology will make its way to smartphones, that's a bit less clear, as ETA Devices is still researching with hopes that the amplifier can eventually handle all the different modes and frequencies a smartphone typically works with, instead of taking Apple's approach and bringing out multiple chips.

The iPhone (News - Alert) 5 actually has five such chips in its operations.

It's not hard to see the value in reducing power consumption. It's better for the environment as well as users' wallets, and the improvements in convenience are hard to pass up either. Reducing the frequency of recharging also helps in terms of overall battery life, so more efficient power amplifier systems will put a lot of extra value into the overall ecosystem.

With more people turning to smartphones for more functions, and smartphones in general offering more functions, it's clear that more power is going to be required to support those offerings. Until better battery technology can be had, savings have to be found wherever they can be found, and ETA Devices' new tech should do the job nicely.

Edited by Braden Becker
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