Sometimes getting a strong cellular signal on a smartphone can be maddening. If you're in a metal or concrete building, the signal can be stunted or missing completely, meaning you have to go outside or walk around until you can find a place where your call will go through or not be dropped.
That longstanding problem is why Verizon Wireless received so much traction a few years ago with its successful "Can you hear me now?" ads for the company's wireless services.
Well, for the past several years, a small company called BluFlux RF Technologies has been working on solving the problem of weak wireless signals by designing special smartphone cases with an extra antenna that can increase a smartphone's signal strength by two bars once the phone is slid into the case. They've even built several prototypes, one for an Apple iPhone 5S and another for a Samsung Galaxy S4, and have been successfully testing them with an eye on eventually finding smartphone case vendors that would want to add the technology to their cases.
BluFlux has filed a patent application for their idea and is continuing its work to refine and build on its case designs, Ben Wilmhoff, the president and founder of the company, told eWEEK.
The case designs include a small, built-in, flip-out antenna that when extended can raise a smartphone's signal acquisition by two bars, said Wilmhoff. And by using the extra antenna, smartphones get a second benefit—their battery life is also extended on a charge because they are not using up as much of their stored power trying to locate and latch onto a solid signal, he said.
"We overcome that problem with this technology," he said. "It could make a difference in battery life of some 30 to 40 percent."
They could be on to something here—a smartphone case that cuts down on battery consumption while accentuating cellular signals make a lot of sense and could be very useful to a lot of smartphone owners.
What BluFlux's technology does, he said, is reduce the burdens on internal smartphone systems such as radio frequency amplifiers and device chipsets, thereby extending battery life and handing over signal acquisition duties to an external antenna that doesn't draw any internal power.
Those system components inside smartphones are "working pretty hard to allow us to do Skyping while we are riding a bus and downloading big files while we are on a train," said Wilmhoff. "That taxes the battery."
The company plans to target its invention to several groups of mobile users to start, including first responders and public safety workers, who are often working inside buildings or in remote locations where cellular signals can be harder to come by. That's where BluFlux hopes its ideas can make a difference.
This is a great idea and holds promise for civilian users, too, of course. Let's hope they find traction and bring it to the market in the near future.