One of the single biggest things that chews through your phone’s battery is a component called a power amplifier. It’s a vital piece of technology that turns electricity into radio signals — but now a team of engineers from Cambridge, Massachusetts, says it can stop it eating into your battery life.
The power amps in your phone are horribly inefficient: on average, they probably waste about 65 per cent of the energy they are supplied with. To give some perspective, the iPhone 5 packs six separate power amps, which in total account for up to 60 per cent of its power use, depending on what the phone’s used for. Technology Review explains why the problem arises:
Power amplifiers use transistors that consume power in two basic modes: standby mode and output signal mode when sending out pulses of digital data. The only way to improve their efficiency is to use the lowest amount of standby power possible. But making sudden jumps from low-power standby mode to high-power output mode tends to distort signals, so existing technologies keep standby power levels high, wasting electricity.
Now, MIT spinout Eta Devices has developed a new type of power amp, which uses a kind of electronic gearbox to help reduce power consumption. It selects a voltage to minimise power consumption 20 million times per second, in order to avoid keeping power levels constantly high. The upshot: longer battery life.
While the tech is currently being tested in labs, the company hopes to start rolling out large-scale version for use in LTE base stations as early as next year. Then, a chip-based version should follow that, they claim, could double the battery life of smartphones. [Technology Review]