Bangalore: The Indian research arm of Motorola Inc. says it is working to create new handsets, network infrastructure, and mobile applications aimed at rural areas where even the regular supply of electricity could be an issue, but which the country’s telcos are increasingly beginning to focus on as teledensity rises and competition intensifies in the metros and other urban areas.

New market: Motorola India Research Labs director Chandra Kintala.

The country’s department of telecommunications or DoT is targeting a teledensity (number of phones per 100 people) of 22% by the end of this year. However, rural teledensity remains a low 2%. Apart from patchy access to power, rural areas also suffer from scarce network infrastructure.

To tackle the issue of power supply, Motorola India Research Labs is researching alternative technologies such as fuel cells or batteries that use hydrogen as fuel to replace the conventional lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries used in phones. The laboratory is working on “batteries that can store hydrogen and hold battery charge for almost a week," according to Chandra Kintala, director, Motorola India Research Labs.

Li-ion batteries need to be recharged every 48 hours. The laboratory is also working on ways to make the display screens of mobile handsets more visible in broad daylight. Motorola researchers are investigating quantum dots or tiny particles of semiconductor materials to design new type of mobile handset displays. A quantum dots based display can also be made to act like a solar cell. This will be an added utility on handsets for the rural market.

Targeting last-mile rural connectivity, or the way to reach end-customers, and network infrastructure, Motorola is also working on various combinations of technologies. “We are exploring ways to bring Wimax to the villages over existing mobile infrastructure. To address last mile connectivity, we are trying out options like special beam-forming antennas, multi half-relays and modifying Wi-Fi technology," says Kintala. This research is at preliminary stage. The aim is to improve the network coverage of existing mobile towers in rural areas to beyond 50km, cost effectively. This will help in reaching out to sparsely populated villages where expensive copper cables cannot be laid. Wimax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) and Wi-Fi are wireless telecommunications technologies aimed at providing wireless data over long distances and short distances, respectively.

According to Motorola, India presents unique opportunities for mobile applications, especially in the area of health care. The laboratory is working on a way to use mobile phones for data collection during the spread of a contagious disease such as dengue or cholera. “As of now the data is manually recorded by health workers who go door to door in affected areas, which takes a lot of time. With a mobile application on their cellphones, the same can be done within few seconds," says Kintala. Another application Motorola is examining is aimed at shortening long queues at hospitals. Patients receive a ‘token’ or ticket as a text message instead of queuing up. The mobile phone- based application will keep the patient informed on the wait time.

Motorola’s Bangalore facility is one of the company’s 12 research labs around the world.