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Innovation Revolution

1 March 2008 Dragan Boscovic

Dragan Boscovic of Motorola, informs Gail Purvis about the continuing evolution of the mobile phone. He tells us what technological advances to expect in the future and how scientists are dealing with the problem of adding features to devices while reducing power consumption.

If you were to carry out an internet search for 'radio ecology vision' no doubt you would come across a reference to physicist Dragan Boscovic. His attention is focused on 'astute green' thinking, which describes better and ingenious ecological use of the limited resources of the radio frequency (RF) spectrum.

His official role involves organising teams of technology experts and driving initiatives that look at the future of mobile communications, mapping technology trends and correlating them to potential market applications.

His end objective is to turn this broad understanding of technology and business trends into architecture decisions that drive sustainable research and development investment and product road mapping.

"The wireless and mobile industries have no equivalent to the ITRS semiconductor roadmap," admits Boscovic, "though the players, manufacturers and operators talk at specific forums to discuss realistic expectations and features and joint development and sometimes share their own roadmaps."

Out of more than 16 patents, the one that best pleases Boscovic is his first one on the radio system TETRA (terrestrial trunk radio), a modern digital private mobile radio technology that won him awards in both Europe and the US.

Global Semiconductor Forum: The mobile is morphing. Where do you see it going? Can mobiles replace laptops?

Dragan Boscovic: That consumes the quite significant intellectual power of many technology futurists with no well-rehearsed answer. However, it should not be about whether one class of devices is to make the other extinct, it is more about which one is assuming the primary role in driving and shaping business ecosystems and user experience.

With three mobile phones for each PC in this world, I am inclined to say that the mobile phone is the fitter of the two for prevailing economic and social environments and will continue to shape user experience and drive requirements for other information, communication and entertainment-oriented electronic devices.

I see mobile phones setting the direction in terms of what configurations mobile users will find most beneficial and what improvements they feel will make the most difference to their mobile experience (e.g. screen size, interaction modalities, battery life and charging tariff designs). Polls report over half of people asked believe that 'always-on' (my preference is 'never-off') mobile internet access will be a major factor in how they work and socialise.

GSF: Web 3.0 is taking a stand to get more of the internet onto mobiles. How will this be achieved?

DB: Web 3.0 should present us with a different approach to building applications. The vision entails an application that would assemble out of many different smaller applications and applets, share the same pool of data somewhere in the cloud drawing intelligence from how users interact, combine and/or aggregate learning and use enhanced knowledge to data mine the cloud to provide users with features and information not available otherwise.

"Infotainment is definitely the next wireless frontier to conquer."

One example would be data mining all snapshots taken by mobile phone users at a sports event, or series of sport events, to predict the next game's most valuable player. This way, Web 3.0 application intelligence is based on a fusion of intelligent systems and collective intelligence of people exploiting those intelligent systems.

Motorola has a long tradition of building intelligent systems (e.g. the first microprocessor, cellular phone, global satellite communication network, cognitive radio – demonstrated to the Federal communications commission in the US a few months ago) and is well positioned to build a partners ecosystem, leading evolution to cognitive Web 3.0 applications.

Something worth mentioning about Web 3.0 is the premise of distributed systems, grown virally with the ability to adapt and run on any device. Mobile users will be prime beneficiaries, as a cognitive application adjusts easily to given operational context, offering a full set of utilities when and where needed.

GSF: Are there moves to standardise (e.g. keyboards, control), or will 'hot, easy' tie-in-customer solutions prevail?

DB: Calling for a one-size fits all user interface design won't solve the usability problem. Each person has their preferences and expectations for interacting with smart mobiles.

We should ask for additional capabilities to let the device and its user interface adapt to personal habits and preferences. This is possible and already happening by architecting software platforms and adding a graphical user interface layer that provides additional functions to the core OS, enabling expanded features and capabilities through third-party applications to mobile phones in an open manner.

Motorola is dedicated to bringing advanced software platforms out of the labs and into the product, demonstrated by our investment into UIQ Technology AB, and the use of the UIQ soft-key variant in the Motorola Z8 multimedia device.

"Web 3.0 should present us with a different approach to building applications."

As well as the support for the Android software platform, Motorola will work and invest with other partners developing open user interface solutions. The company will also continue to develop other technologies their laboratories are working on, such as morphing touch screen displays to enable the easy reconfiguration of the keys on a device – which holds the promise of revolutionising user ease in personalising device use.

Our research is concerned with easy and user-friendly possibilities for sharing interactivity preferences. The cool whispering screens technology, for example, allows two devices to gently 'kiss' by bringing the screens together – key configurations, interactivity preferences and personal profiles are then transferred from one device to the other.

GSF: Standard mobile devices are music and camera. Japan is adding breathalysers and health sensors. What are likely American and European 'must have' add-ons?

DB: Space and size, and power and battery are two premium factors considered each time we bundle additional devices with a mobile phone.

Take the digital camera, where the quality of an imaging sensor is measured by several factors including dynamic range, low light response and colour matching performance.

The resolution in megapixels measures data size captured by the sensor but is not, as consumers are led to believe, a measure of quality. If anything, the quality of an image produced by a lower resolution imaging sensor is likely to be of superior quality compared to a higher resolution sensor, given that all other parameters such as sensor size, quality of optical lenses, sensor technology etc. are the same.

Squeezing more pixels onto a given sensor size deteriorates its performance. It takes time to mature a technology process to put the quality performance of photocells back to the same level it was at with larger cells. The moral here is that larger devices are more likely to produce better quality images, as they host larger and better quality-yielding imaging sensors.

"The wireless and mobile industries have no equivalent to the ITRS semiconductor roadmap."

Significant research activity and industrial collaboration in Europe and the US is aimed at turning the mobile into a principal gateway, feeding data or mining the Web 3.0 cloud and indirectly providing 'ambient intelligence' for monitoring health, alertness, pulse rate or more mundanely, the status of heating, air-conditioning etc. For these sensor applications to be widely accepted, it is important to conceive and construct them in ways that are perceived by users as useful, usable, reliable and not intrusive.

GSF: Are video handling and un-foldable screens for A5 vision really here?

DB: Infotainment is definitely the next wireless frontier to conquer. As computer and multimedia converge in the mobile phone, the industry is undergoing a dramatic change and consumers expect the same device to combine information like email and entertainment with multimedia content.

Use related to multimedia consumption on portables can be classified into three categories based on its delivery to the user: move (received via broadcast); demand (requested from the media server and received via dedicated streams) and device (content brought to the device via flash memory cards).

All put the emphasis on superior viewing ability in all environmental conditions. Key to superior user experience is the display. LCD technology has matured and prevails today.

Displays with backlight are getting thinner – a measurement of around 0.95mm will be commercially available in 2008. Since thinner means lighter, it is possible to have larger screens without them being heavy.

LCD has improved its ability to produce a natural palette of colours and avoid blurred edges for fast moving objects, further enhanced by high-resolution capabilities (330ppi or 400ppi). Microlens arrays help image brightness performance without using additional power and display technology exists to support mobile video consumption.

Power consumption, one of the weak performance aspects of LCDs is being steadily improved. The latest technology offers power usage optimisation circuitry, which analyses the content displayed and adjusts the backlight. Display technology will benefit from further research into transmissive micro-electromechanical system (T-MEMS) displays that promise very high image quality with low power use.

"Power consumption, one of the weak performance aspects of LCDs is being steadily improved."

GSF: What about mobile power or on-the-go recharging from street units?

DB: Mobile communication has always been at the leading edge regarding reduction techniques in power consumption – driven by the need to shrink circuitry and maintain power consumption control while adding features and functionalities to each device generation. This continues as consumers elect for slimmer, smaller phones, creating a power density problem.

Smart mobiles already leverage multi-core architecture for performance and consequently are more energy hungry. However, a mobile device cannot consume more than three to six watts depending on size, or it would require active cooling. The question is not just how to bring more energy to a device but also how to use that energy more efficiently.

The challenge for research and development is to conceive processor architectures that are ten times more power efficient, dissipating in the order of 0.1mW/MIPS, rather than today's norm of 1mW/MIPS. Energy efficiency should be sought at both system and silicon-level design by paying closer scrutiny to heat dissipation, leakage current, interconnection resistances and capacitances etc.

The modalities of energy harvesting have been looked into recently as an option to supplement existing battery resources or as a primary source of energy for devices in developing countries where the access to power might not be readily available all the time.

There is no best solution. Applying a cocktail of harvesting technologies is not an option for the form factors consumer want. Recharging your mobile on the street would mean standing for an hour till your mobile recharges. A push to reduce the charging time has implications on battery capacity and longevity.

There is one trade-off consumers might be willing to accept in non-conventional portable energy solutions such as fuel cells. Generating electricity as a by-product of oxidisation of dilute methanol is reaching maturity. The problem was always to make a small enough cell to provide a phone with decent battery life. Having readily available 'street stations' dispensing easy replaceable fuel cell cartridges could ease the short battery life pain to an average user and make this technology more acceptable.

GSF: Are there any new security developments?

DB: Security solutions are crucial in terms of personal data protection as well as business considerations. At the same time, as users, we seem prepared to trade off security for personal convenience. Where PINs are concerned, users tend not to lock the entire phone as it is too cumbersome.

"Security solutions are crucial in terms of personal data protection as well as business considerations."

Motorola R&D is exploring user-friendly authentication of the device user to address this issue. We've explored biometric solutions and believe there are some possibilities there.

We have also demonstrated extending the life of an authentication, using the link to a wearable (i.e. Bluetooth headset) as evidence that the device is in user proximity and a previous authentication is still likely to be valid. In mobile commerce, security is critical.

Current research is not solely based on authenticating the user and/or confirming transactions, but also looks at possibilities and options for enabling a user to quickly and conveniently deactivate this capability on a lost or stolen device. Data recovery is tightly linked to the data backup capability. Motorola already offers solutions for both wired and wireless backup of many kinds of user information on our mobile phones.

We are working on solutions to the stickier problem of backup for things like rights objects for DRM-protected content and critical information associated with mobile payment capabilities. Due to the business value chain, these must be acceptable to the user and to the content owners and distributions, as well as to financial institutions.