by Al Sacco

New Smartphone Battery Development Could Extend Device Life by 50 Percent

Sep 16, 20111 min
MobileSmall and Medium BusinessSmartphones

Researchers from the University of Michigan say they've discovered a new method of extending Wi-Fi-enabled mobile-device battery life, called Energy-Minimizing Idle Listening (E-MiLi), though the development only currently applies to devices connected to Wi-Fi, not cellular, networks.

As smartphones and other mobile devices evolve and gain new features and functionality, including faster network connectivity, they also generally consume more power. Device manufacturers are faced with the challenge of figuring out new ways to address this battery-life dilemma, without constantly increasing the size of battery packs, and devices themselves, to make up for the increased drain.

Kang Shin

Later this month, researchers from the University of Michigan plan to demonstrate a new mobile device battery development that could extend smartphone battery life by more than 50 percent, at least while those devices are connected to Wi-Fi networks. Kang Shin, a University of Michigan computer science and engineering professor, and doctoral student Xinyu Zhang, are calling their discovery “Energy-Minimizing Idle Listening” (E-MiLi).

When Wi-Fi-enabled modern smartphones are connected to Wi-Fi and other wireless networks, they’re constantly communicating with those networks to determine if new data, such as e-mail messages, need to be “pulled down” and delivered to users’ devices, according to the researchers–which is why it’s a good idea to turn off your Wi-Fi radio when it’s not in use. So Shin and his student set out to find a way to decrease the amount of power required for this communication, or “idle listening,” between Wi-Fi devices and Wi-Fi networks, and they came up with E-MiLi

The researchers say E-MiLi works by slowing your device’s Wi-Fi card’s “clock” by up to 1/16 of its normal frequency, until the device detects new data that needs to be delivered. So while the Wi-Fi devices are still communicating frequently with Wi-Fi networks, they don’t require as much power to do so.

Unfortunately, the new development is specific to Wi-Fi networks right now, so it won’t currently help save battery life when connected to high-speed cellular networks, such as HSPA+ or LTE networks, which generally draw much more power than Wi-Fi networks. (E-MiLi could, however, also be used in the future with other wireless communication protocols that use idle listening, according to the researchers.)

E-MiLi is also in very early stages of development at this point. And if the technology is to find its way to mainstream mobile devices, device makers will need to include new “processor-slowing software,” new firmware and compatible chipsets in their products, according to the University of Michigan News Service.

The Michigan University duo’s research was funded by the National Science Foundation, and both Kang Shin and Xinyu Zhang are expected to present the E-MiLi tech on September 21 at the ACM International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking in Las Vegas.