How the Technology Behind Phone Batteries Evolved


Everywhere you turn these days you’ll find someone on their cell phone. These mobile devices have evolved from bulky and rarely used gadgets to essential communication tools that we cannot live without. Mobile phones are an effective gateway to today’s digital generation who do much of their business online. Thanks to the advanced technology behind their efficiency, we can use them for hours without worrying about the batteries dying.

The first cell phone batteries lasted a short time

The modern cell phone credits its existence to the traditional two-way radios used in the 1940s by police and taxis. The first cell phone was used by the Swedish police in 1946, operating on the same principles of radio transmission. The gadget could handle six calls before draining the battery. Phones have been running on car batteries since they were installed in vehicles, instead of the standalone batteries we know. This means that the first mobile phones required large amounts of energy.

Cell phones today have smaller batteries, which might have seemed like a wacky invention in the 1940s. Plus, phones were big and bulky: for example, the Erikson cell phone in the 1950s weighed nearly 80 pounds. Size has changed and manufacturers have come up with better ideas to reduce the size of their communication devices. In the 1960s, cell phones operated in single telephone call zones. Phones did not work once the user was outside the assigned calling area. The technology is credited to a Bell Labs engineer.

The first mobile phone that comes close to what we use today was introduced to the market in 1973 and could be used independently and in multiple calling areas. However, the devices were a far cry from the tiny, sleek, and power-efficient smartphones we use today. Plus, they ran for about 30 minutes before their batteries ran out, and those short-lived power reserves took 10 hours to fully recharge. Compare this charge rate to what you have when using the different types of charging ports – a charging socket in your car, your home electrical outlet, or via a USB charging cable connected to your computer.

Cell phones have evolved over time

From the 1980s cell phones started to become more convenient and popular, but they were something of a mainstay in cars as they required a large battery. Some models could be used outside of vehicles and were known as “car phones”. Other models were built into bespoke cases that housed large batteries to power the devices.

However, as technology advanced, these once bulky and energy-inefficient drinking communication gadgets were getting smaller and smaller in the 1990s. Conversely, the necessary networks also needed to be improved to facilitate better communication. Systems such as TDMA, CDMA, GSM and even digital telephone networks appeared in Europe and the United States in 1991.

Advances in technology to make these devices smaller and more efficient have resulted in smaller cell phones with smaller batteries. People were carrying wireless communication gadgets that weighed between 100g and 200g, compared to their predecessors which weighed 20 to 80 pounds, with some having briefcase-sized compartments for their batteries.

Smartphones have revolutionized the modern mobile phone

Fast forward to 2016, where smartphones are predominant, and it seems what we have today is technology that is centuries ahead of the primitive options used in the 1950s. smartphone can be seen as something out of a sci-fi movie. People use them for texting, making calls, video chatting, web surfing, taking photos, studying, making hotel or dinner reservations, and even doing office work.

The batteries of these devices have also been refined to ensure that they meet the requirements and expectations of the user. Batteries are a significant departure from the car battery, and the technology behind their creation continues to evolve. Currently, we have several types of mobile phone batteries:

Nickel-cadmium (NiCD) batteries were the norm in the 1980s and 1990s. However, they were large and bulky, making the cell phone heavy. In addition, NiCD batteries would develop a “memory effect”, which would occur after recharging them individually during use, preventing them from retaining their charge. Consequently, cell phone users would end up buying replacements, which was an expensive cycle. NiCD batteries were also known to get hot when charged, which presented a risk. They consisted of a toxic compound called Cadmium which was a hassle to dispose of once the NiCD battery died.

  • Nickel-metal hydride batteries

The risks associated with the use of NiCD batteries contributed to the need for better power reserve alternatives, which led to the creation of nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. The NiMH battery came onto the scene in the late 1990s and was a revolutionary change as it did not contain any toxic compounds. The battery also has fewer memory effect issues. Additionally, the NiMH battery was thinner and lighter than the NiCD and took less time to recharge. The nickel-metal hydride battery also held a charge longer, allowing users to use their cell phones longer before running out of power.

Next comes the lithium-ion battery, which is still used today. The lithium-ion battery is thinner, lighter and more energy efficient than its first two predecessors. Full charge takes less time and lasts longer. Lithium batteries can be made in different shapes and sizes, which means the lithium ion battery will fit different styles of mobile phones. That’s why it’s a common choice for many mobile phone manufacturing companies. Lithium-ion batteries do not have memory effect problems; so you can recharge them individually and they won’t underperform. They are also environmentally friendly but are slightly more expensive than their predecessors.

  • Lithium polyion batteries

Lithium-Poly Ion the battery is the current gamechanger. It’s super lightweight with no memory effect that can impact charging, so they have 40% more power than nickel-metal hydride batteries. The technology behind the lithium-poly ion battery is still relatively new; therefore, these batteries are expensive and somewhat scarce. Nevertheless, Li-Poly battery technology has evolved from what was used seven decades ago, which is a milestone for the mobile phone industry.


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