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Wonder tonic keeps mobiles pumping web for longer

Battery-draining surfing offloaded by proxy

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Finnish boffins have developed a proxy to reduce the power required for mobile web access by up to 74 per cent, taking that consumption of power into the cloud instead.

The proxy works in much the same way as Opera Turbo, or Amazon's Silk, in that it gathers the required content and pre-renders it before delivery. But by focusing on reducing the power consumed, rather than accelerating the web experience, the Aalto University researchers reckon they've got power consumed by browsing pages down by 74 per cent.

Jukka Manner, one of the lead researchers on the project, which was yesterday presented at Africomm 2011, told us that they had looked at Opera Turbo and found it could reduce power consumption, but that it's focus on bandwidth reduction (by compressing pages) had less impact on energy use than one might hope

According to the team's release: "[L]ots of processing power is still used decompressing the page, so you still consume lots of power", with the result that many of pages served though Opera Turbo might arrive faster, but "had no reduction in power consumption at all".

The team haven't had the chance to try Amazon Silk, which is just for the Kindle Fire at the moment, but it seems likely Amazon's proxy will deliver a similarly small saving in power.

Which is fair enough: it's not what Opera, or Amazon, designed their proxies to do. By focusing on the power consumption the Aalto University team demonstrated they could reduce the power used by the radio and web browser by as much as 74 per cent, and this could be a big deal in for developing countries.

The release continues: "90 per cent of the African population lives in areas with mobile phone network coverage. Mobile phone usage is increasing rapidly, however the use of mobile internet services is hindered by users not having access to the power grid to recharge their phones". Which is why the presentation was at Africomm – though the technology would seem to be globally applicable.

We suggested that it's the screen which consumes most of the power on a modern smartphone, but Manner contended that in their research they found the radio to be sucking most of the power while web browsing, and that users could dim the screen to save some volts while the radio's consumption was non-negotiable.

The great thing about offloading mobile browsing into the cloud is that much of it can be done without client software, or even telling users that it's being done. UK network operators already scale content to reduce the bandwidth used, making browsing faster, but perhaps they'll now take this research on board and offer customers a longer battery life too. ®

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