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Batteries/Cellular/Fuel Cells Tomorrow060311
Cell Phones Drive Portable Power -
Batteries Today(!)
Fuel Cells Tomorrow (?)
by Shirley Georgi

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)  in January 2006, cell phones  were commanding the crown for wireless communication.  In fact, as  Steve Koenig, CEA’s (Consumer Electronics Association’s) senior manager of industry analysis, noted, “Wireless handsets account for 11 percent of the $123 billion in total CE (Consumer Electronics) industry shipment revenues expected this year.”  

Plunkett Research, Ltd. has stated that the cell phone is the fastest-growing consumer electronic in the world.  Globally, 700 million cell phones were forecasted to be sold in 2005. A larger number of camera-equipped cell phones are sold each year than stand alone digital cameras. More MP3 player equipped cell phones are also sold than the single-function MP3 players.  

China is benefiting from this trend and is the leading manufacturer of electronic high-tech products, including cell phones.  In January 2006, the Ministry of Commerce in China touted the fact that China exported cell phones and cell phone parts worth US$2.9 billion; this figure accounted for 16.5 percent of the total export volume of high-tech products.

Adobe Photoshop ImageSamsung’s i730, the   first PDA phone with EV-DO high-speed  data and a first with built-in Wi-Fi, was a  2006 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) winner in the “Technology is a girl’s best friend 2005 Diamond Product Showcase.”

The versatile i730 is the ultimate taskmaster.  It comes loaded with Wireless Sync so you can send and receive email directly from your i730 and even synchronize your email with most POP3 and IMAP email accounts when you subscribe to a PDA/Smartphone plan such as that offered by Verizon.

The phone itself weighs 6.44 ounces,  measures 4.49” x 2.28” x .97” and has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.  It operates in a dual mode, both CDMA 850 and CDMA 1900.   

This Windows Mobile Pocket PC phone also sports a 520 MHz processor, 128 MB of memory and an SDIO slot.  Other features include Bluetooth, infrared. 3D stereo speakers and speak-independent voice dialing.

Powering this device is a 1000 mAh Lithium-ion battery which provides 2.20 hours of talk time and standby time of 130 hours, according to specifications.  (Photo is courtesy of CEA and Samsung.) +

Americans have become cell phone dependent.  According to CTIA research, from January - June of 2004, wireless consumers talked on their  phones 500 billion minutes.  By the end of 2004, consumers used 1.1 trillion minutes of talk time. With new features being added, including music, video and Internet, this number is on a path for an even higher growth rate.    

Growth -  In the U.S.  

CEA research states  that nearly one in five recent wireless purchasers have no landline phone.  In a 90 day study from  early September to early December 2005 , a full 17 percent of consumers who purchased wireless phones reported  using their wireless phones exclusively.   According to the Yankee Group, as reported in Business Week, p.18 on 10/03/05, 6.2 million U.S. households are expected “to cut the cord on their telephone land lines this year and become completely wireless.”

Microsoft Excel ChartIn the early 1980’s, the analog mobile phone service (AMPS) was the first widely available wireless phone system.  The ‘brick’ and ‘bag’ phones were powered at first by Lead-acid batteries and later by Nickel-cadmium batteries.  Initially, voice communication was the only goal.

Digital  wireless phone service known as 2G  debuted in November 1995 when Sprint launched personal communication services (PCS) in the Washington, D.C. area.  In two years, wireless phones had penetrated roughly 20 percent of households.  By 1998, wireless handset shipments approached 14 million units, with household penetration of 40  percent.  With the growth of phones, power sources such as Nickel-metal hydride became the ‘norm’ along with increased talk-time.  

With the debut of digital wireless services, handsets began to  include PDA- style features  such as contacts, calendar organizers and even games and selectable ringtones. Caller  ID, voicemail and paging  became  rapidly embraced features.  Lithium-ion batteries became more and more prevalent as the choice power source.  

Today, CEA estimates wireless phones are now present in 73 percent of U.S. households.   More features have been added to phones such as email,  musical downloads  and Internet connections.  Camera-phones are popular and video is becoming an enticing and   desired feature as consumers are upgrading to their next wireless phone.

(Note that the figure in the chart for 2005 is an estimate and 2006 and 2007 figures are projections.)  

Information on cell phone history is  based on  “Wireless Purchasing Study: Satisfaction and Loyalty, ” December 2005,  credits to CEA Market Research, Arlington, VA . (Data is from  Consumer Electronics Association) +

Glenn Lurie, Cingular’s president of national distribution, is optimistic about the growth of cellular in the U.S. There is still significant growth available in the wireless industry, as the U.S. is less than 65 penetrated  with wireless users”.  

CEA Research notes cell phones are present in 73 percent of households, and  many are updating to new phones   to get more features.  In reviewing consumer purchases of wireless phones, CEA Research found that 56 percent of consumers having  cell phones purchased their phones less than one year ago. Features such as a camera are popular, in fact, Informa Telecoms and Media has estimated that 77 percent of mobile handsets will be camera phones by 2010.

Examples of the latest phones with multifeatures/multitasking  are  Samsung’s i730 and Motorola’s Magneta RAZR, which were the   2006 CES  winners in the “Technology is a girl’s best friend 2005 Diamond Product Showcase.”  

Motorola’s ROKR phone has  Apple’s iTune music player software.  This tri-band GSM phone features built-in stereo speakers with surround sound, a VGA camera with  flash, Bluetooth, micro SD (TransFlash) memory card slot, speakerphone and an airplane mode.

In China

The Asian market is booming.  China Statistics reports that China’s domestic mobile phone battery market was expected to reach 570 million units in 2005, compared to 450 million in 2003.  The rechargeable battery market is  growing; currently it is valued at $500 million and growing 20 percent annually.  This increase is being “pushed” by  increased sales of cell phones. The Chinese Digital Communications Group  (OTCBB:CHID) stated in September 2005, “Not only are more Chinese consumers buying mobile phones, but current users are constantly upgrading their equipment as rapid advances in technology bring about new cell phones which are eagerly accepted into the marketplace.”   

Companies are tailoring phones and services specifically for the Chinese market.  To provide  wireless phones for the less affluent consumers in China, both Motorola and Nokia are selling phones in the $30 to $40 price range.  

There is also a trend toward better design in China for the Chinese users’ cell phones, not just copied models from abroad.  For example, Lenovo has designed a special phone just for the more affluent consumers in China.  The phone not only has a camera and an MP3 player but it also has a  perfume aroma.  When the battery  “heats up,” the user  enjoys sweet smells throughout the room.

Microsoft Excel ChartBoth Nokia and Motorola gained market share during this quarter. The gain is attributed to aggressive sales in emerging markets. (Information and data are based on studies from Garter.) +

In David Rock’s “China Design”  article in Business Week (11/21/05), he said that Chinese design is taking off and going native.  “Foreign companies are realizing that Chinese consumer tastes differ from those in L.A. London, or Tokyo.  So ... Motorola, Nokia and others have designers in China.”  

China is definitely the world’s most dynamic consumer market.  According to information from   the 2005 China Mobile Telecommunications Terminal Development Forum, there were 25.7 mobile phones for every 100  Chinese by the end of 2004.  Subscribers are are also looking for phones with increased functionality and features (i.e., MP3, video and games).   The China Center for Information Industry Development notes that 60 percent of mobile subscribers are in the market for a new cell phone; in fact, 24.4 percent buy one every 12 to 24 months.  

In other countries

India  is expected to be the fastest growing market during this period with a 32.8 percent compound annual growth rate in subscribers.

Gartner states that the mobile phone sales in Eastern Europe, Africa and Middle East grew 37 percent, with mobile phone sales rising to 33.6 million units in the second quarter of 2005.

In Russia, there is a 60 percent penetration by mobile phones, according to Romir Monitoring - a Russian national opinion research center.  Siberia has the highest proportion of users with 66 percent market penetration.        

The Power Challenge

Features  on the cell phone are continuing to  expand.  The “all encompassing phone”  plays music, shows television clips and  videos, swipes credit cards, scans product labels, works as a debit card, provides locations   on a map, wires money to bank accounts, and sends video / voice mail as well as text messaging. And  as WiFi   expands in 2006, cell phones are being created to function  in a “dual mode’ so that they can work on either cellular or WiFi networks.     With  these phones becoming an “end all” for communication, the battery or other power source needs to be as robust as possible.   

Batteries -

The king of the  current state-of-the-art technology for  powering portables is the Lithium-ion battery.  By tweaking the chemistry of the anode, cathode and electrolyte, researchers have been able to make small improvements in  energy density for portable power over the last ten years.   As Ric Fulop, co-founder of A123 Systems. states, “Lithium-ion has been improving at a rate of about 9 percent a year since a decade ago when Sony introduced the first battery based on this technology.”  Currently, A123 Systems has a new improved Lithium-ion battery based on nano-phosphate chemistry for high-current devices needed by power tools, and the company is considering possible opportunities to adapt their technology for portable electronics.  

Microsoft Excel ChartIn 2004, there were 740 million mobiles users in Asia, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

India is expected to be the fastest growing market during this period with a 32.8 percent compound annual growth rate in subscribers.

(Information is based on data by In-Stat and reported in “designing for emerging mobile markets” by Ron Schneiderman in Consumer Electronics VISION,  Jan./Feb. 2006.) +    

 Lithium-ion batteries are keeping our wireless devices powered, but the chemistry itself has some “drawbacks.”   Jim Balcom, president and CEO of Polyfuel, comments on  this issue.  “Lithium-ion batteries don’t do very well from a durability aspect.  Most tend to decline to the point where, after a year or two, the energy capacity drops to about 80 percent of the original level and thereafter falls quite steeply.”
The bottom line is that  the consumer world is not satisfied with the   progress   in the electrochemistry of batteries and has unrealsitic expectations that battery advances should keep pace with advances in electronic chips .

Since the laws of nature which govern battery development can not be changed, the battery community has looked for additional solutions.

One solution is to reduce the recharging time so that battery recharging is almost  a transparent  operation.  Toshiba has successfully   developed a battery which can reach 80 percent of its capacity in one minute.  This new battery, using nanoparticles,   is expected to be launched in 2006.

Many companies are looking toward fuel cells as the answer.

Fuel cells -

Recently, Polyfuel, Inc., which manufacturers hydrocarbon-based membranes for fuel cells, produced a press  release entitled “CES Post Mortem: Here Comes the ‘Run-Time Gap’; New Video and Mobile Applications Will Use More Power Than is Available in Current Battery Technology.” Polyfuel’s CEO Jim Balcom is confident that fuel cells are the answer for extreme “power hungry” applications in wireless data communications.  He reported that a consumer’s daily mobile power requirement in 2007 will be at least four times what the best-available batteries can deliver today, and 2-1/2 times greater than experts believe batteries will ever deliver.  “As a mature technology, batteries are essentially tapped out.”  Although not explicitly stated by Mr. Balcom, the implication is that “fuel cells are the new winner!”

Microsoft Excel ChartAlthough there is still a market for PDAs, The unit sales have been declining since 2003.  More wireless handsets (cell phones)  are including PDA features. Multifunctional/multitasking handsets are the new trend in portable electronics.

For example, Palm, which has been a leader in selling PDAs, launched its TREO 700w PDA phone at CES 2006.  This is the first Treo based on the Windows Mobile platform and its first to incorporate CDMA 1x EV-DO high-speed wireless.  The phone also has a dial-by-picture feature, 1.3megapixel camera, and Bluetooth 1.2.

Prior to this launch, Palm  offered Treo PDA phones based on the Palm operating system.

Note that the 2005 figures in the chart are  estimates and the 2006 figures are  projections. (Data in the chart is from “U.S. Consumer Electronics Sales & Forecasts 2001 -2006,” CEA, January 2006.) +   

There are a plethora of companies looking to fuel cells as the answer to portable power.  A sampling is as follows:

Medis Technologies is hoping to be the first to commercialize a fuel cell cartridge which could recharge a cell phone.  Since their chemistry is Alkaline-based, there is no chemical volatility  issue with taking the cartridge on an airplane .  Medis units should begin to be available this fall , Sept. 2006.  (See “Medis Presents its Micro Fuel Cell as “ready-to-go”  for the Retail Market at the Consumer Electronics Show” in the January issue of Batteries Digest found on the web at  

Samsung SCI announced at the end of January 2006 that the company  has developed a methyl alcohol-operated fuel cell which is said to have double the lifetime of other cell phone batteries.  The Korea Times reported that this  fuel cell could extend talk time on a cell phone to eight hours. Mass marketing  of the fuel cell and replacement cartridges are  not scheduled to begin until the later half of 2007.

NTT DoCo Mo and KDDI of Japan  hope to have fuel cell rechargers for wireless phones available to consumers in another year or two.

NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone) is developing a hydrogen-fueled PEFC (polymer electrolyte fuel cell) which could replace Lithium-ion batteries in mobile phones.  The goal is to provide a 3G (third-generation) phone having  2.5 Watts of power with 9 hours of talk time.  Currently, the prototypes are too large and it may take two years before the PEFC can be made small enough to fit into the phone.

Microsoft Excel ChartAccording to the Yankee Group, as reported in Business Week, p.18 on 10/03/05, 6.2 million U.S. households are expected “to cut the cord on their telephone land lines this year and become completely wireless.”

The estimated dealer sales in wireless phones in 2005 are $13,585 million in 2005 and are projected to increase to $16,099 million  by 2006.  Such positive trends in wireless are a boon for rechargeable batteries.  Estimated cordless phone sales in 2005  are $1,017 million but are projected to fall in 2006 to $883 million.  Corded phones have continued to decline in sales since 2001.  In 2005, the estimated dealer sales of corded units are $261 million and are forecasted to fall to $255 million in 2006.  

(Data in the chart is from “U.S. Consumer Electronics Sales & Forecasts 2001 -2006,” CEA, January 2006.) +

Lilliputian is also working on fuel cells for wireless applications.  The company is utilizing MEMS based technology developed by founders at the Microsystems Technology Laboratories at MIT.

Matsushita Battery Industrial provided information at CES on their progress in developing a new fuel supply method for direct methanol fuel cells  that makes is possible to reduce the size of the fuel cell to one half of the current industry level.  Matsushita Battery believes fuel cells are a promising candidate for the next-generation power supply for  portable/wireless electronics .  Matsushita Battery has been working to develop a micro fuel cell solution since the late 1980s to fill these market needs.  


To date, prototypes, in-the-lab-models and pre-commercial fuel cell units seem to dominate the scene.  Perhaps CES 2007 (or maybe CES 2008) will be the year when fuel cells become one of the hot topics as these new power devices become commercialized .  The wireless world is anxiously waiting their arrival.