Prototype system promises 54% smartphone battery life boost

University of Michigan researchers system manages wireless device idle time

Researchers says they have created a system that can boost battery life by 54% by better  managing idle-"listening" times on smartphones or other wireless devices.

Called Energy-Minimizing Idle Listening or E-MiLi the software-based system  slows down the WiFi card's clock by up to 1/16 its normal frequency, but jolts it back to full speed when the phone notices information coming in. It's well known that you can slow a device's clock to save energy and idle listening often consumes as much power as actively sending and receiving messages all day.

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Most existing protocols, such as the 802.11 power-saving mode (PSM), attempt to reduce the time spent in idle listening (IL) by sleep scheduling. However, through an extensive analysis of real-world traffic, we found more than 60% of energy is consumed in IL, even with PSM enabled, the researchers wrote in their E-Mili description.

The hard part, was getting the phone to recognize an incoming message while it was in this slower mode, according to  University of Michigan computer science and engineering professor Kang Shin who along with doctoral student Xinyu Zhang came up with E-MiLi.

When used with power-saving mode, the researchers found that E-MiLi is capable of reducing energy consumption by around 44% for 92% of mobile devices in real-world wireless networks, Shin stated.

"Usually, messages come with a header, and we thought the phone could be enabled to detect this, as you can recognize that someone is calling your name even if you're 90% asleep," Shin said.

E-MiLi requires processor-slowing software on smartphones and firmware for phones and computers that would be sending messages. They need the ability to encode the message header-the recipient's address-in a new and detectable way. The researchers have created such firmware, but in order for E-MiLi use to become widespread, WiFi chipset manufacturers would have to adopt these firmware modifications and then companies that make smartphones and computers would have to incorporate the new chips into their products, the researchers noted.

E-MiLi is compatible with today's models, so messages sent with future devices that use E-MiLi's encoding would still be received as usual on smartphones without E-MiLi. E-MiLi can also be used with other wireless communication protocols that require idle listening, such as ZigBee, according to Shin.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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