Power Plays

Carl Weinschenk

Power is a significant issue facing vendors and network providers as the complexity and capabilities of mobile devices increases. The dynamic is fairly straightforward: More sophisticated smartphones, laptops and assorted other devices demand more power than older gear. The ability to increase the capacity of current batteries, however, is not keeping pace. In the longer view, improvements in current technology alone are limited by an inconvenient set of rules referred to as the laws of physics.


The best ways around the issue is to rely on a combination of approaches, including improvements in current lithium-ion battery technology, new types of batteries, non-battery power sources such as solar energy and fuel cells and more efficient management of the power on the device.


InformationWeek reports that Microsoft has paid attention to the powering issues in Windows 7. The story says that a laptop running the new operating system improved operating efficiency almost 20 percent compared to the same machine running Windows Vista SP2. This, the story quotes a Microsoft blog as saying, equates to more than an hour of extra running time. The improvements were achieved by not powering elements of the device that when not being used, shutting off unneeded buses and lowering power to the Intel chips when possible, the story says.


There never seems to be a shortage of news about breakthroughs and more modest advances in fuel cell and battery technology. The MIT Technology Review this week has a story about a Swiss company, ReVolt, which has improved a known battery technology. The concept first will be incorporated in hearing aids and, in the next few years, for cell phones. The story does a good job of explaining the complex technology. Essentially, the concept improves on existing zinc-air battery designs. These improvements make the batteries rechargeable. The story says ReVolt claims to be able to produce a battery capable of storing three times the energy in the same space-and that costs half as much.

Another advance is the Novacell from SunCore. SunCore, according to this Orange County Register story posted at Bradenton.com, has developed a way to use all light -- from ultraviolet to infrared-for recharging. That's quite an advance, in practical terms, since room light can be used to recharge devices. The Novacell connects to the device through a USB connection. The story says that China Mobile has an $800,000 test order. If the technology works, the carrier will enter into a $21 million agreement with SunCore.

The fuel cell folks, lest they get left behind, have an advance of their own to talk about. Computing.co.uk reports that in Japan, Toshiba is launching the Dynario, a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) for mobile devices. The Dynario connects to the device through a USB connection. The story says the power is generated through the catalyzed oxidation of methanol. This process produces water, carbon dioxide and power. The idea is to use the Dynario to charge the lithium-ion batteries that actually power the device.

There never is a shortage of innovation in the modern communications world. One of the most active areas, due to its importance, is mobile device powering. While there doesn't seem to be a silver bullet set to answer all concerns, it seems that enough research is ongoing to avert a crisis.

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