A signal amplifier (Credit: University of Bristol)

Power-saving breakthrough in mobile mast design

A breakthrough in the design of mobile phone masts could cut their demand on the UK power network by 200MW.

A signal amplifier designed by engineers at the Universities of Bristol and Cardiff works at 50 per cent efficiency compared with the 30 per cent now typically achieved, and the researchers have calculated the design could save roughly half the output of a mid-size 400MW power station if rolled out to just a fifth of the country’s 50,000 phone mast base stations.

Currently, a 40W transmitter in a phone mast’s base station requires just over 130W of power to amplify signals and send them wirelessly to people’s mobiles, but the new design enables the transmitter to work effectively while using just 80W of power.

Dr Kevin Morris, project leader at the University of Bristol, said: “This new amplifier design represents a step change in energy efficiency that could make a really valuable contribution to meeting the UK’s carbon reduction targets.”

The team’s development of a less power-hungry amplifier has focused on devising sophisticated new computing algorithms for incorporation into its inbuilt electronic management system, as well as on making a number of adjustments to the amplifier hardware.

The project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), also succeeded in simplifying the whole amplifier design process – of vital importance to encouraging widespread take-up of the project’s findings.

“Traditionally, designing signal amplifiers for base stations has been a long, complex process involving a trial-and-error approach and producing one-off solutions,” Morris added. “This has fuelled a reluctance to develop new amplifier designs. To get over that barrier, we’ve made it a priority to ensure our design is easily replicable.”

The team are now working with a major electronics company to take some of the project’s key findings towards commercialisation. Follow-up funding has also been secured through an Impact Acceleration Grant awarded by EPSRC.

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