Solar handsets that don't quit

John C. Tanner
20 Nov 2009


A running theme of this year’s Mobile Asia Congress was fighting climate change with mobile technology


One of the more impressive pieces of evidence to support mobile’s green ambitions was actually on the exhibition floor at the Intivation booth.


Intivation – which is headquartered in the Netherlands – is the brains behind solar-powered handsets that keep the battery fully charged even under heavily shaded lighting conditions.


“One of the issues with solar cells is that they provide unstable DC output depending on the light intensity,” says Dhugal Meacham, Intivation’s APAC business development chief. “That makes it hard to keep the battery fully charged, which is why previous solar-cell handsets can only extend battery life to a degree.”


Intivation’s SunBoost technology – a chipset that sits between the phone battery and the 24cm2 solar cell mounted in the rear casing – uses an algorithm to regulate the voltage to keep it at a stable level, which in turn makes it more efficient and keeps the handset at full power, Meacham says.


The catch – at least for now – is that because cell-phone makers can only realistically use low-cost 24cm2 15% efficient solar cells (higher efficiency cells are too expensive), the SunBoost solution works best with low-end 2G phones.


“For higher-end phones doing bandwidth-heavy 3G apps, you’re still going to drain the battery, just not quite as fast,” Meacham says.


On the other hand, he adds, low-cost solar handsets are ideal for rural areas in emerging markets – not just because of the price, but also because those are the very areas where unreliable or non-existent power grids make charging handsets a major challenge.


ZTE and Foxconn are already selling $30 solar handsets using Intivation’s technology. Foxconn is selling them under the Commtiva brand in the Philippines and Indonesia.


John C. Tanner

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