This year, chewing through nearly 1 percent of all global electricity production to power cellular base stations around the world will cost $36 billion. By a grossly inefficient piece of hardware, a gadget that turns electricity into radio signals, much of this is wasted by the power amplifier.
Versions of amplifiers within smartphones suffer similar problems, according to Technology Review.
Blame the power amplifiers if you’ve noticed your phone getting warm and rapidly draining the battery when streaming video or sending large files. As with the versions in base stations – and the reason why you sometimes need to charge your phone twice a day – these chips waste more than 65 percent of its energy.
Now based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a company called Eta Devices – cofounded by two MIT (News - Alert) electrical engineering professors, Joel Dawson and David Perreault – says that with a new amplifier design, it has cracked the efficiency problem.
It’s currently a lab-bench technology, but if it proves itself in commercialization, which is expected to start in 2013, the technology could slash base station energy use by half. Likewise, a chip-scale version of the technology, still in development, could double the battery life of smartphones.
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“There really has been no significant advance in this area for years. If you get 30 to 35 percent efficiency with today’s amplifiers, you are doing really well. But they can more than double that,” said Vanu (News - Alert) Bose, founder of Vanu, a wireless technology startup.
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 usage of the lowest amount of standby power possible is the only way to improve their efficiency. However, signals tend to distort when a sudden jump from low-power standby mode to high-power output mode is made.
To avoid that, existing technologies keep standby power levels high, thereby wasting electricity.
Edited by Braden Becker