Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Multimedia Cell Phones Drive Quest for Next-Gen Power Options

With the huge advances in technology over the past 20+ years, I have always wondered why cars don't get better gas mileage and batteries don't last longer. I won't touch on the former, but TechNewsWorld writes about the impact of "higher data rates and sophisticated features such as digital cameras, mobile video and advanced gaming" on the power consumption of today's handsets. Bob Egan at The Tower Group said, "As they look at improving their handsets, cell phone suppliers are bumping up against current power constraints."

The article writes that the "problem has arisen because there is a disconnect between battery power improvements and cell phone advances. Whereas cell phones have been following Moore's Law, which predicts significant performance boosts -- often a doubling of processing power -- every 18 months, battery power enhancements have been occurring at a rate of less than 10 percent per year."

Alan Varghese at ABI Research said, "There are a lot of new technologies that could address battery problems, but it is unclear now which will capture the market's attention."

The article looks at some of the new technologies that hope to improve battery power for mobile devices, including more efficient lithium ion batteries, direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC), micro polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFC), and enhanced battery management systems.

Sara Bradford at Frost & Sullivan said, "Power management has been an area of focus, and handset vendors are delivering systems that closely monitor power usage and deliver only the amount of power needed."

ABI Research's Varghese noted that "Since tight coupling between handset components is crucial to reducing power consumption, companies that offer discrete power solutions are going to suffer at the hands of those offering integrated platform solutions."

Frost & Sullivan's Bradford added, "Vendors have cleared a number of technical hurdles but still must address some more obstacles before any of the new battery options become available. Major vendors are using different types and amounts of fuel to power batteries of different sizes, so it will not be easy for them to deliver the volumes and scale necessary to drive down pricing."

This means new power technologies will probably roll out to high-ent handsets first. ABI Research's Varghese said, "New battery functions will show up first in high-end devices used by businessmen. These users are more willing to pay extra for the functionality than consumers."

Frost & Sullivan's Bradford concluded, "because there are so many questions surrounding the next-generation products, I don't expect a clear-cut solution to battery problems to arrive for a couple of years."