DoCoMo keeps customers switched-on

Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo is pioneering new ways of re-charging mobile handsets. It unveilved a methanol-based fuel cell prototype on 6th July and has now announced a partnership with Aquafairy to develop a Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell (PEFC) which extracts hydrogen from water.

Using Aquafairy’s technology, the micro-PEFC can deliver twice as much power as the methanol-based cell and is four times smaller. The prototype measures just 24 x 24 x 70mm and weighs 45 grams, about a third the weight of a typical 3G handset.

It works by using a catalyst to extract hydrogen from water. The hydrogen is then channelled to the anode, where it is separated into ions and electrons. The electrons flow between the anode and the cathode, creating an electric current. At the cathode, the ions and electrons combine with oxygen to produce water. The result is a charger which can be used several times and is more environmentally friendly than existing lithium ion and methanol alternatives.

NTT DoCoMo’s PDF has full details.

Re-charging a device from the PEFC takes about the same amount of time as from a standard power source (around 2 hours).

Loss of revenue from devices which have lost their charge has never been high on the priority list of network operators. Most UK operators allow customers to take advantage of their retail presence by offering a free in-store re-charging service. Some also offer solar chargers for travellers, but technologies such as inductive charging – which enable specially-equipped handsets to be re-charged simply by placing them in a wireless charging zone – have never gained much momentum.

UK-based SplashPower originally envisioned a market where operators would fund the rollout of branded wireless charging pads in retail outlets and cafes, but secure a major commercial deployment.

DoCoMo, which now has more power hungry 3G handsets on its network than 2G devices, appears to be switching on to this issue. It has realised that the most active and high-spending users can discharge even the latest batteries in a single day and by supplying a range of charging alternatives is able to keep these customers spending.

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