Wireless mobile charging is on its way

4 October 2013, 14:51   By Jemma Crutchlow-Porter

WIRELESS charging may not be a brand new idea, but with a race between three rival standards starting to heat up, more people are seeing the benefits.

wireless mobile battery charging
Credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com

The aim of wireless charging is fairly simple: to charge a mobile device without the need for pesky plugs and wires.

Instead of plugging a charger into the wall or computer, people will be able to get juice simply by placing it on a mat or surface.

Some smartphones, including Nokia Lumia devices (1020 review here) and the Google Nexus 5 (or so has been rumoured) already support the technology. It's even possible to charge up in some branches of McDonalds and Starbucks in Europe and the US.

wireless charging nokia lumia

Sounds great, but if the technology is already available, why hasn't it been rolled out everywhere?

Wireless charging is facing a similar problem as that of wireless networking when it was first established in the early 2000s.

At that time there were two competing technologies, Wi-fi and the now lesser known HomeRF.

With wireless charging, there are three horses in the race.

Key players

Each of three main groups is trying to create the definitive wireless charging standard.

First up is the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which was founded in 2008 with the aim of Qi becoming the global standard. Qi is a type of integrated wireless charging technology and is featured in the Nokia Lumia devices.

However, in an attempt to fight against Qi, Samsung and wireless telecommunications manufacturer, Qualcomm, decided to set up the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP).

The A4WP is backed by Powermat, SK Telecom, Gill Industries and a whole host of other big names. The technology differs in that it allows the charging to work, even with space between the device and charger.

Then last, but not least, is the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), which also has Powermat as a member as well as Procter & Gamble, Toshiba and ZTE.

Taking sides

Despite both Qualcomm and Samsung founding the A4WP, they have both expressed an interest in joining the other groups.

Qualcomm are keen on getting the wireless charging juice flowing. They have invested in all three groups to ensure they get a slice of the action no matter what happens.

Qualcomm recently announced they will work on a hybrid standard, which would be supported by both PMA and A4WP. Prior to that, they revealed they had also joined the WPC board.

Similarly, being a proud supporter and founder of A4WP hasn't stopped Samsung from also investing $4 million in PowerbyProxi, a company that uses the WPC standard.

With a couple of big supporters teaming up with other standards, perhaps the future of A4WP is in doubt. Wireless charging could become a two-horse race sooner than expected.

wireless charging mobiles

Next generation

At the moment, wireless charging revolves around placing the device flat on a mat which can range in size from as small as the device to laptop-sized.

It's safe to say that the technology isn't exactly problem-free, slight bumps or slips can mean it takes a lot longer to charge.

However, although there seem to be problems within the A4WP camp, the group is working on next-generation tech that will actually send the beam upwards, removing the worry of positioning your phone completely flat. Slight wobbles and awkward shapes won't matter.

In fact, you could even stack a number of devices and have them all charge at once.

Wireless charging could really take off as the technology develops further, soon you might just have to be in the same room for your device to charge.

It's this drive to improve wireless charging that has impressed the likes of Samsung for so long.

History repeating?

The fate of wireless charging is likely to be decided in a similar way to wireless networking.

In 2002, HomeRF was winning the wireless networking race, with many supporters and was thought to be less susceptible to interference than Wi-fi.

However, Wi-fi eventually prevailed when it was integrated into Apple's iBook, closely followed by a mass rollout of Wi-fi in Starbucks.

This propelled Wi-fi in front of HomeRF to become the technology the vast majority of us use on a daily basis.

It's for this reason that Daniel Schreiber, president of Powermat and board member of PMA, claims that "standards are ultimately set in a coffee shop, not a conference room."

Power Matters Alliance has already got Starbucks and McDonalds on board, unlike A4WP and WPC, which are both dependent on manufacturers supporting their technology, rather than concentrating on marketing ploys.

Although the ultimate future of wireless charging technology still hangs in the balance, influential backers are starting to take sides.

Some, such as Qualcomm, are even trying to harmonise the three key groups but despite the progress it could be a while until we see more widespread adoption.

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