As the sponsor of, Cadex Electronics gets many interesting enquiries from battery users. One writes, "Hi, I am looking for an answer to a perplexing question(Sony Vaio VGN-FZ battery). A co-worker and I have identical cell phones from the same provider. Moving into a new house, she complained of short battery runtime. I told her she was out of her mind, but then I noticed my battery behaving differently when I travel. Is there some mysterious force that's draining the battery(Sony VGP-BPS8 battery)?"

Yes, there is a force that's draining the battery. An active cell phone is in constant communication with the tower and consumes small bursts of energy once every second or so to check for incoming calls. The transmit power is adjusted to the signal strength. If the cell phone is close to a repeater tower, little energy is needed to communicate(Sony VGP-BPL9 battery). Moving further away or entering an environment with high electrical noise, such as a shopping mall, hospital or factory, more energy will be required. An analogy can be made to sitting in a restaurant. In a quiet establishment the voice can be low, but as the crowd grows, everyone needs to talk louder to be heard(Sony VGP-BPS9 battery).

Living in sight of a tower has advantages and your battery will run longer between charges. In essence, towers are the best friends to cell phone batteries. Even the placement of a cell phone in your house has an effect on runtime. At a recent meeting with a large cellular provider in the UK, a manager said that his son noticed short standby times after moving to his basement bedroom. If possible, leave your cell phone in an upstairs room facing a tower. When traveling by car, don't place your cell phone on the floor. Instead, raise it closer to window level but avoid direct exposure to the sun, as heat will harm the battery(Sony VGP-BPL11 battery).

The same energy savings apply to TETRA and P25 radio systems, cordless telephones, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. A wireless headset that is communicating with your cell phone on the belt will provide longer runtimes than placing the handset on the dining table while doing the cooking. The Bluetooth headset needs to work harder when farther away from the user, although the quality of communication may not be affected(Sony VGP-BPL15 battery).

Just to clarify that the energy savings from the placement of a wireless device only apply when it's in the ON position. When OFF, the residual loads are very low; the battery needs only to supply power for housekeeping functions such as maintaining the clock. Housekeeping and self-discharge consume 5-10% of the available battery energy per month(Sony VGN-FZ460E battery).

During the last few years, standby and talk-times have much improved. The lithium-ion battery has doubled its energy density since its introduction in the early 1990s. In addition, large energy savings are being achieved in the receiver and demodulator circuits. Figure 1 illustrates the reduction of power consumption in these circuits since 2002(SONY VAIO VGN-FZ4000 Battery). We must keep in mind that this saving only applies to standby and receiving. Transmitting requires about five times the amount of power compared to receiving and demodulation. Modern handsets have also achieved better efficiencies in transmit circuits(Sony VGP-BPS13 battery).

It's not always the battery's fault

When the cell phone quits, the battery often gets the blame. The battery is the only user-replaceable part on a cell phone and becomes an easy target. Service personnel often replace the pack without testing, only to have the fault recur(Sony Vaio VGN-FZ21M battery ).

Moving from nickel-based to lithium-ion batteries eliminated many problems. Lithium-ion packs are maintenance free and don't require periodic full discharges to restore capacity; there is no memory effect. Still, customers suspect the batteries as the reason of most problems. As a result, large volumes of good packs are replaced and discarded. This is costing the cell phone industry ten million dollars annually. Cell phone providers say that 90% of returned batteries can easily be serviced(Sony VGN-FZ150E battery).

Technology is now available to rapid-test batteries at store level while the customer waits. If a replacement is needed, an exchange is given from a pool of batteries that had previously been serviced. On-site restorations eliminate courier charges and relieve manufacturers from the burden of handling tons of returned batteries(Sony VGN-FZ15 battery).

Figure 2 illustrates the service flow, starting with the customer bringing in the cell phone, checking the battery and providing a replacement. The replacement pack is taken from a pool that had previously been refurbished on site with a battery analyzer. A recent pilot test by a large service provider using this exchange program worked well and no replacement battery ever came back due to failure(Sony Vaio VGN-FZ18M battery).

According to a U.S. cellular provider, a typical store gets an average of ten returned batteries a day. The handling cost is estimated at $15US per pack. This amounts to a daily expense of $150 per store. Realizing this high expense and trying to cut cost, ten stores participated in a one-month experiment that involved examining and servicing incoming batteries using Cadex battery analyzers. During this study period, the stores saved 1981 batteries, resulting in a saving of about $30,000(Sony VGN-FZ31E battery).

Battery rapid-testing

One of the key features of a modern battery analyzer is obtaining accurate test results when rapid-testing a battery. In the past, the battery state-of-health was mostly estimated by measuring internal resistance. As Figure 3 shows, the battery's ability to hold energy (capacity) may not correspond with resistance. On some lithium-ion batteries, the capacity can drop to half its original level while maintaining low(Sony VGN-FZ180E battery).

For best results, a battery should be tested under similar conditions as used in the field. QuickSort™ by Cadex achieves this through a technology referred to as electrochemical dynamic response. This method can be compared to a mechanical arm under load. A strong arm remains firm, whereas a weak one bends and becomes sluggish when under load. This response can also be applied to estimating battery state-of-health. QuickSort™ provides a correct prediction 90% of the time over a wide population of lithium-ion batteries in various state-of-charge conditions(Sony VGN-FZ17 battery).

A relatively high number of batteries fail due to over-discharge. We discovered this while checking 1000 customer-returned packs that had been sent to the Cadex lab for further evaluation. Among these packs, 30% had no voltage reading and appeared dead. This was due to over-discharge(Sony VGP-BPS18 battery). At voltages between 2.5 and 2.8V, the internal safety circuit of a lithium-ion battery disengages and the battery goes into a sleep mode, making a recharge impossible. The Boost program of the Cadex C7000 Series battery analyzers activates the safety circuit and brings the battery back to life. The restoration is permanent and the pack can be returned to the customers(Sony VGN-FZ220E battery).

To prevent a cell phone battery from inadvertently falling asleep, apply a 30-minute charge (or longer) after the "Low Batt" indicator comes on. Do not store the cell phone in a totally discharged condition. Peripheral loads, combined with self-discharge, will further discharge the battery. This can lead to an eventual disconnect in which the battery appears dead as described above(Sony VGN-FZ11Z battery).

Besides rapid-test and boost, most battery analyzers also offer full battery service programs that consist of charge and discharge cycles. Such programs provide the most accurate battery assessment and are the recommended methods to prepare replacement batteries for exchange purposes. Figure 5 illustrates the Cadex C7400(Sony Vaio VGN-FZ31Z battery).

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