Powering cellular base stations around the world will cost $36 billion this year—chewing through nearly 1 percent of all global electricity production. Much of this is wasted by a grossly inefficient piece of hardware: the power amplifier, a gadget that turns electricity into radio signals.
The versions of amplifiers within smartphones suffer similar problems. If you’ve noticed your phone getting warm and rapidly draining the battery when streaming video or sending large files, blame the power amplifiers. As with the versions in base stations, these chips waste more than 65 percent of their energy—and that’s why you sometimes need to charge your phone twice a day.