A key inhibitor to adoption of notebooks as mobile devices has been their weight, of which the battery and charger constitute substantial portions.

Let’s consider this. The average weight of a notebook (not a netbook) would be around 2.5 kg. Of this, a typical six-cell battery would weigh around 325 gm while a nine-cell battery would be approaching 500 gm. In addition, the AC adapter’s weight would easily be in the range of 600 gm to 700 gm, which takes the total carrying weight for the user to more than 3 kg.

Now consider that batteries and the adapters were to weigh a tiny fraction of their current average weights. Wouldn’t that suddenly increase the appeal of the notebooks among ICT users? And what if the need to carry the adapter was literally done away with?

Researchers from the University of Illinois’s Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology are reported to have used ‘nanotubes’ in place of metal wiring, in a development that has the potential of building batteries that last 100 times longer. These breakthrough ‘nano’ carbon tubes are said to be 10,000 times smaller than a human hair.

The applications of this breakthrough could be endless, and would likely far extend the realms of ICT in the long run. The early benefits, however, would come to smaller form-factor devices like the smart phones and tablets, followed by the notebooks, mainly due to the high costs associated with nano technologies. (All this, of course, after the development-to-commercialisation cycle is completed.)

The development and low-cost availability of nano-technology batteries can have far reaching significance for ICT growth in countries like India. Most immediately, this can lead to a faster PC adoption and wireless broadband penetration in the semi-urban and rural areas, where the ad hoc availability of power supply makes ICT usage an unpredictable affair, while many urban areas would only be a little better.

PCs, especially notebooks and tablets, that can be powered by nano batteries and can run without AC supplements for days and weeks, if not months, would be a reasonably compelling proposition for consumers.

Further, the ‘nano power’ could be commercially practicable for the micro, pico and femto cells, if not the macro cells—the typical mobile base stations so synonymous with mobile towers. The femto cells have a small coverage radius and are suited for homes and small offices, whereas pico cells would be suited for providing coverage to larger offices, malls, etc. For perspective sake, the femto and pico cells are typically the size of a Wi-Fi access point and have comparable power requirements.

A more optimistic view could also mean that nano technology would make it possible for these cells to be solar charged and thus completely eliminate their dependence on AC power. For telcos, this could lead to phenomenal cost savings, as the need to deploy more macro cell sites and to power them, so often with gen-sets, can be contained to an extent.

These operational savings would help them recoup their colossal investments in 3G spectrum faster, which in turn could lead to lower 3G pricing for consumers in a foreseeable future.

Interestingly, with some network planning, even the Wi-Fi access points could deliver similar benefits to consumers and service providers. That all notebooks and tablets have Wi-Fi access by default would be a bonus.

(As published in Deccan Chronicle on March 17, 2011.)

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