How do you stop your phone's battery being murdered by apps? Just add FACH

Nokia's working on a new technology that could curb the amount of data idle apps use, and so make smartphone batteries last longer.
Written by Eeva Haaramo, Contributor

Your favourite smartphone apps are killing your battery. Apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and even email run constantly in the background whether you're using your phone or not, and are prime culprits in causing our smartphones to run out of juice. 

Now Nokia Networks, the services and infrastructure division of the former mobile phone giant Nokia, has created software that it hopes will help tackle the unpopular phenomenon.

The new software feature, called Nokia High Speed Cell FACH, achieved up to 20 percent faster web browsing, 44 percent quicker voice call set up and boosted response time in IM apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger by up to 65 percent.

Perhaps most interesting is Nokia's claim that power consumption in test smartphones was reduced by up 40 percent, translating to significantly longer battery life. Nokia does warn that the savings depend on the application in use, though the smallest power saving in the test was still nine percent.

FACH works by improving smartphone performance on 3G networks. Smartphones frequently send and receive small 'keep alive' data packets of a few hundred bytes or a few kilobytes. These are typically used by apps polling for information, such as checking for new emails and receiving notifications, and as notifications grow out of control, so does their effect on smartphone battery life.

For example, Nokia Smart Labs research found that an Android-based smartphone creates just two data packet calls per hour without any app activity. But when an array of apps is added the background the signalling activity increases dramatically to 17 packet calls per hour, 400 packet calls per day.

Even worse, whenever a smartphone wants to receive or send data it's done by allocating an individual channel for the transmission, no matter how little data is transferred – an extremely inefficient process.

This is where the new feature steps in. Instead of allocating individual channels to all small data packets, it uses one shared channel with enough bandwidth for all 'keep alive' data polling, and it's this refined process that makes the test phones' apps run faster and use less energy.

Nokia also claims there are upsides for operators too. By supporting the transmission of smaller packets on common high-speed FACH channels frees up additional capacity for users while the reduction in signalling makes services more responsive. In the trial, smartphone-generated network signalling was reduced by up to 80 percent.

It is worth pointing out that FACH only applies only to small data packets. Applications using bigger amount of data, such as downloading a video, will still need their own channel.

"Smartphones already outsell feature phones and by 2018, smartphone penetration in some developed markets is expected to exceed 90 percent. With virtually all these smartphones being 3G-enabled, it's important to be able to improve network efficiency under high signalling load," Thorsten Robrecht, vice president of mobile broadband portfolio management at Nokia Networks, said.

The good news for networks is that FACH can be deployed with a simple software upgrade. The catch is that your smartphone will need to support FACH and, while it is coming to the next generation of Qualcomm's popular Snapdragon chipsets, it isn’t currently on any commercially available handsets. Nokia hasn't disclosed whether it has agreements with any networks in place to rollout the feature commercially.

With social media identified as the major villain yet dominating the charts for the top 10 most actively used smartphone apps, hopes will be high for more news soon.

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