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Smartphones streamline idle listening

Posted: 22 Sep 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smartphone  battery life  power management  Idle Listening 

University of Michigan researchers present an energy-minimising, "subconscious mode" for idle listening on smartphones and other Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices that is said to extend battery life by as much as 44 per cent for users on the busiest networks.

Computer science and engineering professor Kang Shin and doctoral student Xinyu Zhang will present their power management approach in a paper titled "E-MiLi: Energy-Minimising Idle Listening in Wireless Networks," at the ACM International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking in Las Vegas on September 21st.

Even when smartphones are in power-saving modes and not actively sending or receiving messages, they are still on alert for incoming information and they're searching for a clear communication channel. The researchers have found that this kind of energy-taxing "idle listening" is occurring during a large portion of the time phones spend in power-saving mode—as much as 80 per cent on busy networks. Their approach could make smartphones perform this idle listening more efficiently. It's called E-MiLi, which stands for Energy-Minimising Idle Listening.

To find out how much time phones spend keeping one ear open, Shin and Zhang conducted an extensive trace-based analysis of real Wi-Fi networks. They discovered that, depending on the amount of traffic in the network, devices in power-saving modes spend 60 to 80 per cent of their time in idle listening. In previous work, they demonstrated that phones in idle listening mode expend roughly the same amount of power as they do when they're fully awake.

E-MiLi works by slowing down the Wi-Fi 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. The hard part, Shin said, was getting the phone to recognise an incoming message while it was in this slower mode.

"We came up with a clever idea," Shin said. "Usually, messages come with a header, and we thought the phone could be enabled to detect this, as you can recognise that someone is calling your name even if you're 90 per cent asleep."

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

E-MiLi requires new processor-slowing software on smartphones as well as new 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, Wi-Fi chipset manufacturers would have to adopt these firmware modifications and then companies that make smartphones and computers would have to incorporate the chips into their products.

Shin points out that 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.

The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property, and is seeking commercialisation partners to help bring the technology to market.

- Jean-Pierre Joosting
  EE Times

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