The power gap: How battery life is putting a drain on wireless

It may not be as sexy as the latest smartphone, but battery power is a critical issue for multiple players in the mobile ecosystem, from carriers to handset makers to parts suppliers.

The industry is at a critical juncture when it comes to battery life in mobile phones. Representatives from carriers and parts suppliers and analysts agree that the demands placed on batteries are outpacing improvements in battery life. And the market's rush to pack in as many new features and functions into phones as possible only exacerbates the problem.

Indeed, this problem is illustrated in the above chart from Cadex Electronics, which makes battery analyzers and chargers. From around 2000 to just recently, phones had an excess of power, but that dynamic is shifting, according to Cadex CEO Isidor Buchmann.

And though there are a few technologies being developed to combat the issue--including more efficient processors, fuel cells and other technologies that could change the industry's dynamics--there isn't much on the horizon that will help today's mobile users.

"There really unfortunately is no killer battery technology," said Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at research firm In-Stat. "We really are left at making the silicon do more for less, because the battery technology cannot keep pace."

"There hasn't been any big breakthrough," conceded Cadex's Buchmann.

Stopgap measures

The repercussions of the battery dilemma are clear to both carriers and handset makers alike.

"You're starting to really eat into benefit of having the device in the first place," said John Coyle, senior director of customer strategy and marketing at U.S. Cellular.

So carriers and handset makers are doing what they can to make the best of a situation that is less than ideal. Josh Lonn, director of product development at T-Mobile USA, said the carrier has been working with application developers to optimize communications between services and networks--thereby easing battery drain.

U.S. Cellular is taking a different approach. In May, the carrier announced a battery exchange program that allows customers to come into any of its retail stores and change out a dead or dying battery for free. Coyle said U.S. Cellular is also attempting to educate its customers with tips on how to improve battery life, such as turning off certain features like Bluetooth when it's not being used.

"It's going to continue to be an issue," he said...Continued

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