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As much as we love Smartphones, they are a pretty inefficient technology. We typically focus on charging as the main point of energy consumption, but new research from MIT suggests the real inefficiencies happen far from your outlet. Cellular base stations, the facilities where electricity is turned into radio signals, suck up an astounding $36 billion worth of electrical energy a year. You may think that all that juice helps to make your phone blazing fast, but it doesn’t. According to researchers at MIT much of this is wasted by a single inefficient piece of hardware – and they may have finally cracked the problem with a new design.

MIT, smartphones, energy consumption, power amplifier, energy efficiency, technology

The inefficient piece of hardware is called a power amplifier. You’ve actually got a smaller version inside your smartphone, and it’s the reason why your device gets warm and rapidly loses battery power when streaming video or sending large files. Just like their cellular station counterparts, the amplifiers in your phone waste 65 percent of their energy by keeping standby power levels high in an attempt to avoid distorted signals. Finally, after more than 30 years of using these energy-wasting amplifiers, MIT researchers say they’ve made a breakthrough.

The new advance is essentially a blazingly fast electronic gearbox. It chooses among different voltages that can be sent across the transistor, and selects the one that minimizes power consumption, and it does this as many as 20 million times per second. The company calls the technology asymmetric multilevel outphasing. 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.

An MIT spinout company called Eta Devices, cofounded by two MIT electrical engineering professors Joel Dawson and David Perreault, is working quickly to prove the value of their concept at commercial scale. If successful, they hope to implement the new amplifiers at LTE base stations in the developing world, where 640,000 diesel-powered generators chew through $15 billion worth of fuel per year.