Feeds

Micro-mech chips to free phones from 'grip of death'

RF MEMS to the rescue

High performance access to file storage

CES 2012

In the summer of 2010, Apple's marketing was forced to move from the offensive into a defensive mode. The successful launch in June of the iPhone 4 had been quickly followed by 'Antennagate', the controversy surrounding claims that holding the handset in a certain way would kill its ability to communicate with mobile phone networks.

Worse, this so-called 'death grip' turned out to be the way rather a lot of phones naturally sit in their owners' hands.

Apple's then CEO Steve Jobs was able to turn the situation around, persuading the world that not only was the Antennagate overblown but that all mobiles suffer from the same problem to a greater or lesser extent. The iPhone 4 was perhaps more susceptible because its antenna was a metal band wrapped around the case.

Or, rather, several antennae: one for the phone's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, both operating in the 2.4GHz band, and a second for its GSM and 3G communications, in a range of frequencies.

Jobs' point, in part, was that mobile phone designers may hide away their antennae, but they all suffer from changes in the wireless environment, in this case by the close proximity of an 80 per cent water human hand.

Smartphones, which are all about accessing data services through a variety of wireless network types, suffer more so than old, voice-centric devices.

But 2012 may be the year in which this ceases to be a problem.

Enter the RF MEMS chip, a device with a name derived from the initials of Radio Frequency Micro-Electrical Mechanical System. Essentially, it's a silicon chip that contains microscopic moving parts.

RF MEMS chip makers, such as Irvine, California's WiSpry showed its offerings off at this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Punters won't ever see RF MEMS chips, but if WiSpry is right they will enjoy the benefits: fewer if any dropped calls and faster downloads.

WiSpry's chip makes it easier, the company claims, for a phone to tune its antenna to the signal it's receiving and what it's transmitting. As phones become slimmer, and bigger batteries mean there's even less room inside a handset for all the other essential parts, antennae are getting smaller. That makes accurate, fast tuning even more essential, to ensure as little energy is lost in the pick-up or during transmission.

WiSpry's part contains mechanical capacitors that are physically altered to adjust the volume of electrical charge they can hold and thus the tuning of the antenna.

WiSpry is already selling chips to phone makers. It said this week its technology sits at the core of the first mass-produced RF MEMS-enabled handset. It didn't name the phone or the manufacturer, but market watcher iSuppli says it's the Samsung Focus Flash, a Windows smartphone.

iSuppli notes another benefit of tunable antennae: instead of requiring separate radios and aerials to work with multiple wireless technologies, as current handsets do, future phones will be able to tune a single radio and antenna to more than own network type.

The arrival of new wireless technologies and the need to support older ones in order to retain compatibility means the number of network types future handsets will need to support is going to increase not go down. Without a tunable 'one size fits all' radio, that may prove too costly, slowing the uptake of new, faster network technologies.

WiSpry isn't the only company developing RF MEMS devices, but it seems to have a head start, thanks to the Samsung deal, unacknowledged by either company. There are other technologies available to phone makers keen to implement antenna tuning too.

Whichever prevails, and if the Samsung Focus Flash proves to be more signal friendly than its rivals, tunable antenna may allow the likes of Apple to be even more adventurous with its iPhone aerial arrangement. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Feast your PUNY eyes on highest resolution phone display EVER
Too much pixel dust for your strained eyeballs to handle
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Report: Apple seeking to raise iPhone 6 price by a HUNDRED BUCKS
'Well, that 5c experiment didn't go so well – let's try the other direction'
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Nvidia gamers hit trifecta with driver, optimizer, and mobile upgrades
Li'l Shield moves up to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, GameStream comes to notebooks
AMD unveils Godzilla's graphics card – 'the world's fastest, period'
The Radeon R9 295X2: Water-cooled, 5,632 stream processors, 11.5TFLOPS
Sony battery recall as VAIO goes out with a bang, not a whimper
The perils of having Panasonic as a partner
NORKS' own smartmobe pegged as Chinese landfill Android
Fake kit in the hermit kingdom? That's just Kim Jong-un-believable!
Gimme a high S5: Samsung Galaxy S5 puts substance over style
Biometrics and kid-friendly mode in back-to-basics blockbuster
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.