Pieces for wireless charging takeoff 'coming together'

Benefits of wireless charging are well understood but factors such as compatibility and charging infrastructure are only now falling into place to push wider adoption.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

The increasing participation among electronics vendors has helped position wireless power charging at the cusp of widespread adoption, but stakeholders must establish compatibility among wireless chargers for more consumers to accept the technology.

According to Menno Treffers, chairman of Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), the technology behind wireless power is "well understood" by those in the industry and external parties, particularly after its Qi standard for wireless charging and power was introduced.

This can be seen by the range of 110 consumer products authorized to carry the Qi logo, which comprises a global installed base of 8.5 million units ranging from charging pads and smartphone-docking speakers to alarm clocks and charging modules for tabletops and furniture, according to a statement WPC made earlier this month.

The largest markets for Qi-enabled devices are the United States with 6 million units, followed by Japan and South Korea with 2 million units and 500,000 units, respectively, Treffers added.

Another proponent of wireless power, WiTricity, added the industry had moved on from first-generation wireless chargers introduced over two years ago featuring traditional magnetic induction. These chargers required phones to be in contact and carefully positioned on the charging pad, and came with bulky accessories such as back covers for smartphones, noted Simon Verghese, director of marketing for WiTricity.

Going forward, consumers can expect easier-to-use wireless charging devices using highly resonant wireless power transfer--a technology WiTricity pioneered and for which it holds the fundamental patents, Verghese added.

"You'll be able to charge your phone by just placing it on your desk, or near your laptop computer, or in a cup holder in your car. We expect that once such products are available, there will be rapid growth and widespread adoption by consumers," he said.

Treffers wrote in a blog post last week how magnetic resonance and magnetic induction technologies were not fundamentally different, but just different techniques deployed to achieve wireless power transfer. As such, its Qi standard does not limit itself to just the latter technology but allows manufacturers to choose from the two, he said.

Fitting disparate pieces together
Today's challenges, however, are not so much technical but rather one of compatibility and creating the infrastructure to allow consumers to charge their mobile devices everywhere, the WPC chairman pointed out.

He said compatibility in the charging infrastructure arena requires product manufacturers to unite behind a common standard, and Qi appears to be that banner. Nokia's Lumia 920, LG Electronic's LG Optimus LTE 2 and backdoor wireless charging capability for Samsung's Galaxy S3 all support the Qi standard, for example, he pointed out.

Verghese added that standardization and use cases will get resolved but it will be a "lengthy and complex process".

What is positive, though, is the increasing participation from various companies along the industry supply chain. Semiconductor companies such as MediaTek and IDT have announced plans to extend their product lines to support magnetic resonance, while the approval of patents involving magnetic resonance in markets such as South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and Australia will help companies better manage business risks of launching wireless charging products, he noted.

The IDT development is in partnership with chip giant Intel to create the Wireless Charging Technology, which allows smartphones to be charged wirelessly by PCs, according to the chip giant's blog post in August.

Industry consortiums and standards development organizations such as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) are also helping to coordinate the development of the wireless charging market, Verghese said.

"All the pieces are coming together for widespread adoption of wireless charging," he stated.

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