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Finnish researchers promote African commerce with new technology.

What’s your biggest beef with your smartphone? Is it the battery life? Then it would be interesting to consider that while wireless internet is covering more and more ground, electricity is still not running in many third world countries. On the African continent, more people have access to wireless Internet than electricity. In East Africa alone, ninety percent of people have access to wireless Internet, but not nearly as many people have access to reliable electricity. However, a group of researchers have been able to utilize cloud servers to try and bring more smartphones into African commerce.

Funded by the Finnish government, a team of researchers have found a way to reduce 3G smartphone power consumption by up to 74 percent. Again, because African has better access to the wireless Internet than to electricity, a smartphone that constantly needs recharging isn’t a feasible way to increase Internet usage on the continent. Many believe that increasing Internet accessibility for citizens gives them a better chance to do business and increase their standards of living. This in turn raises the standard of living for their community and eventually spreads even further. So while it may seem odd that the Finnish government would fund a project directly benefiting Africa, the philanthropic reasoning is sound.

Specifically, Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, has created a system that utilizes network-based proxies to send the majority of data downloading and processing to the cloud. The idea of rerouting processing to the cloud is not a new idea, however. Multiple mobile browsers already send processing to the cloud for one, all-encompassing download of site data to be displayed at once on the mobile browser when all processing has completed. Most popularly, the mobile browser Opera Turbo utilizes this technique. Although the wait time to see any semblance of a website is a little longer, the satisfaction of being able to look at a completely loaded webpage all at once is an incentive for users, along with, of course, the fact that less battery power is used.

On November 28th, the 2011 iteration of Africomm was held, and researchers from Finland’s Aalto University went to present their power saving idea. The team included professors, doctoral students, and masters students. Africomm is held annually (although it has only been running for three years) in different locations in Africa. Visitors came to discuss and hear presentations about the communications infrastructure in Africa. Finland’s research group specified their research to Africa by collecting their test data from Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. The tests looked at availability from the local power grid and popular websites in the region. From that test data, the team can examine different ways to provide access to those websites from mobile devices and record the power consumed by each device and website pair.

Large strides had been made in spreading the wireless Internet further in East Africa. Recently, however, production has been forced to slow down because of all of the power that is consumed from local data centers by users viewing and downloading data. One way these researcher’s believe they can make a difference is by extending the battery life of inexpensive 3G smartphones. Although that may seem like just a drop in the bucket, as the old adage state, “a little can go a long way.”

Right now, the development already has a prototype system out. Essentially, it is an enhanced Web proxy server and an optimized communication interaction between the device and the proxy server. That same technology is also going to be used as part of Tekes’s Energy and Cost Efficiency for Wireless Access (ECEWA) program. The program is partnered with other companies such as Ericsson, Efore, and ECE.