4G Technology—Great for Users, Not so Great for Batteries

Why Battery Life is Becoming Critical in the Smartphone Market

For many of us, our smartphones are indispensable. They’re our phones, our navigation systems, our link to social media, our gaming systems—we depend on them every day. So when the low battery symbol appears and I’m without a changer, I must admit a slight panic sinks in.

Like many smartphone users, I’d love it if my battery would last for several days—like mobile phones did before the smartphone was introduced. Unfortunately, all those useful features that make smartphones indispensable come at a price: dramatically increased processing power, bigger screens and much higher power consumption.

Bigger devices have enabled bigger batteries, but this trend can’t go much further due heat, space and cost limitations. Improving battery life going forward must come from improved device power efficiency. So what’s the industry to do to make long term power efficiency improvements?

A long term power efficiency solution requires both hardware and software development. It will come from hardware like the dedicated and frugal silicon chips for voice recognition in the Moto X. And it will come from smarter software like Qualcomm’s Network Socket Request Manager, which reduces smart phone signalling traffic by bundling application requests and intelligently delaying them. Ultimately both solutions deliver better user experiences and reduce total power consumption. While many companies are introducing innovative, more power-efficient hardware and software, app developers also need to play their part.

At first glance, an OTT app developer needn’t care about battery drain—it’s a mobile operator and device vendor issue. But if an OTT app begins to get a reputation for draining power, users start spending more time logged off and usage slips away. So there is an incentive for the app developers: at first you’re selling on the strength of your features, but if your app becomes a standard, word will get around if the user experience doesn’t take battery life into account. Indeed battery life is emerging as one of the principal causes of subscriber dissatisfaction with new 4G devices and that is why we are finding increasing demand for battery life testing.

To assess the power efficiency gains of new designs for mobile devices and apps, you need to accurately measure power consumption and battery life under real-world scenarios. But how do you measure battery life given there isn’t a typical user profile: e.g., a teenage text-addict has a very different usage pattern than a mobile business executive, or a mother keeping in touch with children and friends. At Spirent, we’ve developed individual applications and scenarios that mimic realistic real world usage conditions—including a mix of video, web browsing, SMS, voice, data and push mail applications—to generate an accurate measure of actual performance in a user’s hand.

What’s the payoff for this kind of use case-based testing? For mobile operators, it allows them to identify which devices have the best and worst battery life and power efficiency. Then they can promote devices with the best battery life and work with device manufacturers to improve less efficient designs. For device manufacturers, it allows them to determine how well their devices are operating for specific types of user behavior and identify opportunities for improvement. We also help chipset providers that work with device manufacturers to make similar calculations, and enable application developers to determine how their apps impact battery life.

With power-hungry 4G services like streaming video on the rise, keep a close eye on this space and expect to see a lot more buzz about the real battery life of our smartphones under realistic and demanding operating conditions. In the meantime, stay calm and keep those chargers handy.

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