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Extending battery life has been a challenge preoccupying all sectors. Researchers have now built a new component that will more efficiently allow access to the highest 5G frequencies in a way that increases devices’ battery life and speeds up how quickly we can do things like stream high-definition media. 

How will it work? Smartphones are loaded with switches that perform a number of duties. One major task is jumping between networks and spectrum frequencies: 4G, Wi-Fi, LTE, Bluetooth, etc. The current radio-frequency (RF) switches that perform this task are always running, consuming precious processing power and battery life.

The team from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Lille in France have found a solution. “The switch we have developed is more than 50 times more energy efficient compared to what is used today,” said Deji Akinwande, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who led the research. “It can transmit an HDTV stream at a 100 gigahertz frequency, and that is unheard of in broadband switch technology.”

The new switches stay off, saving battery life for other processes, unless they are actively helping a device jump between networks. They have also shown the ability to transmit data well above the baseline for 5G-level speeds.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has for years pushed for the development of “near-zero-power” RF switches. Prior researchers have found success on the low end of the 5G spectrum – where speeds are slower but data can travel longer distances. But, this is the first switch that can function across the spectrum from the low-end gigahertz (GHz) frequencies to high-end terahertz (THz) frequencies that could someday be key to the development of 6G.

The impact of this technology extends beyond smartphones. Satellite systems, smart radios, reconfigurable communications, the “internet of things” and defense technology are all examples of other potential uses for the switches.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Electronics.