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Summary:

The Note contains a Qualcomm chip called an envelope tracker, which will dramatically reduce the amount of power needed to run its LTE radio. We’re going to see this technology in a lot more devices.

The charge on the Galaxy Note 3 is going to last a lot longer than you think – and not just because of the slightly larger battery Samsung is shipping with the handset. Buried within the radio guts of the phone is a tiny chip called an envelope tracker, and it will reduce the power necessary to keep the Note connected to the network by as much as 30 percent.

The envelope tracker in the Note was developed by Qualcomm, and it’s the first commercial implementation of the technology that I know of. What it does is essentially match the power pushed through the phone’s signal amplifier to the actual power needed to transmit a signal. That might sound obvious, but in practice it’s a very difficult thing to accomplish.

A mobile signal is a waveform riddled with peaks and valleys, so a typical phone amp maintains a uniform “envelope” of power that can capture its highest amplitudes. The problem is particularly pronounced with LTE, which suffers from what’s known as a high peak-to-average ratio.

Nujira envelope tracking

The best explanation was given to me last year by Jeremy Hendy, VP of sales and marketing at envelope tracking pioneer Nujira: LTE is classical music. 3G is heavy metal. Classical music has long quiet interludes punctuated with wild crescendos, while heavy metal is pretty uniform in loudness. Heavy metal is going to sound just as good (or bad) on any amp, but classical music requires much higher power to capture its nuance.

“You need a high-powered amp for LTE otherwise the signal is distorted,” Hendy said. “That’s why the power on an LTE [handset] is so bad. For every 4 watts you put in you only get 1 watt out.”

Galaxy Note3 FlipCover_004_Open Pen_Wild OrangeSo if you’re wondering why your new LTE phone has such crappy battery life (or comes with an enormous lithium-ion caboose) compared to your old 3G model, you have your answer. What does envelope tracking do about it? It basically wraps the power envelope around the waveform tighter than a latex bondage suit, resulting in relatively little power loss.

What does that mean for a device like the Note? Well, the biggest power suck from a smartphone is always going to be a backlit display, and with the Note’s plus-sized screen that’s a significant drain. But unlike the screen, the phone’s LTE or 3G radio is always on and always communicating with the network.

If you’re the type of user that has a lot of apps running the background, then the power savings will be significant. The Note will also run a lot cooler since it won’t be expending all of that extra energy. While streaming video is going to tax your phone’s processor and display, at least you won’t have the additional power drain of a hyperactive LTE radio.

The Quantance ET chip

The Quantance ET chip

Nujira believes that as envelope tracking technologies improve they could reduce the power footprint of mobile devices as much as 25 percent – that’s a 25 percent improvement in overall device battery life, not just from radio. That’s another quarter to half-day of battery life without charging, depending on the device.

We’re going to start seeing envelope trackers in a lot a more devices. Nujira and Quantance, another envelope tracking specialist, have started shipping their chips to device makers, and many other radio frequency module makers have developed their own products. Qualcomm may well have an edge over the competition, though, given its dominance in smartphone processors and LTE chips and its growing influence in the RF module space.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user koya979

  1. ATT just released the price $399 with 2 yr commitment. Retail Price:$809.99

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    1. Note 3 too damn high Friday, September 6, 2013

      Verizon wins. 300 on contract.

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  2. Searchub Nation Friday, September 6, 2013

    Hope it really will last long.

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  3. FYI, your article is saying that the huge screen will still kill the battery, directly contradicting your headline.

    “Thanks to new chip in Galaxy Note 3, LTE won’t kill its battery (you can still blame the screen though).”

    There, I fixed it for you.

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Friday, September 6, 2013

      Yeah, you’re right, David. We were trying to go for the idea of despite having a huge screen, the Note wasn’t going to be as power hungry as you’d think because of its radio energy efficiency. There’s only so much we could fit into the headline. But you’re right, this makes it looks like the chip is saving screen power when it’s saving overall power.

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  4. Plus, your teaser talked about the backlight power. I believe the Note3 has an OLED screen? Since OLED typically uses less power than an LCD backlight, this may enable the ET to provide a greater fractional battery life impact. Any word as to whether the Qualcomm ET chip is paired with a Qualcomm PA?

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  5. Kevin Fitchard Friday, September 6, 2013

    Hi Art,

    I believe its only the envelope tracker. At Qualcomm’s Uplinq event, they said the Note 3 users its QFE1100, which is part of the RF360’s modular architecture, but it doesn’t look like it’s using any of the components beyond ET.

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  6. what about the xperia z1?

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  7. Press Release.

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  8. Stay away from QUALCOMM – they do not support open source

    No Cyanogenmod, or unlocking for you, they might even take away the SIM cards again!

    Wait for Broadcom, Samsung or Intel chips

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  9. Qualcomm ugly face shows again

    Stay away from Qualcomm chips – They do not support open source

    You won’t be able to unlock or install Cyanogenmod or Android AOSP on your phone.

    Wait for Intel, Broadcom or Samsung chips

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  10. Someone at my university developed an antenna (or series antennas) which had a small fraction of typical power usage. The smaller antenna was sensitive enough to detect if a call was being received, then for voice or data transmission, the larger antenna would be turned on and used. The developer was being scooped up by middle east investors but I haven’t heard anything about this technology being implemented anywhere.

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