One step closer to charging devices wireless (+video)

Two of the biggest wireless charging groups have teamed up to combine wireless standards in hopes of throwing all cords away once and for all. 

By , Staff Writer

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    Duracell Powermat, a member of Power Matters Alliance, and Starbucks expanded wireless charging to the Silicon Valley area in 2013.
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We have fingerprint scanners, self-healing back covers, and 41-megapixel cameras on our smart phones, yet the minute that battery bar starts blinking red, most people still reach for a tangled cord to charge their phone.

Though smart phone technology has grown leaps and bounds in recent years, wireless charging remains an elusive technology. Why? Competing wireless charging standards have dissuaded adopters. However, on Tuesday, two of the biggest wireless charging conglomerates announced they are teaming up to put wireless charging on the fast track to consumer hands. But don’t throw away your charger yet – wireless still has a ways to go.

Currently there are three major wireless charging technology groups that represent most of the wireless charging technology players. There’s Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), started in 2012 by Qualcomm and Samsung, and has created a magnetic-resonant wireless technology called Rezence. There’s Power Matters Alliance (PMA), which includes Procter & Gamble and Duracell, and has its own inductive-charging standard already used at select Starbucks and McDonalds. And then there’s the Wireless Power Alliance (WPA), which is the largest group with more than 200 members and supports the most widely used inductive wireless charging technology, Qi.

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On Tuesday, A4WP and PMA announced they are signing a cooperation agreement in order to establish “a clear path for industry consolidation by harmonizing technical standards.”

That’s because competing technical standards have been the bane of wireless charging technology. Between the three major wireless groups, there are three different standards of wireless charging. WPA and PMA uses inductive charging that charges one device at a time on a charging plate for maximum efficiency (but are separate standards). However, both have experimented with magnetic resonant technology. A4WP is solely working on Rezence, magnetic-resonant charging which allows for multiple devices with different power needs to charge through one plate.

Differing standards have caused some to hold off on incorporating the technology into devices. For example, phone makers such as LG, HTC, and Nokia have just started adding wireless charging capabilities to their smart phones. Apple has not yet incorporated it into its phones.

While WPA and PMA’s standards have been commercially available for some time, Rezence only debuted for use in December.

Kamil Grajski, president of A4WP says that what looks like a battle of standards is actually more a generation gap, and this partnership finally connects first-generation technology (inductive) with second-generation technology (magnetic-resonance), so companies can work with current technology while planning for the future.

“This partnership is really about giving industry and major adopters [such as hotels and electronics companies] an investment and future-proofed roadmap for technology,” he says.

Many companies are aware of this, and have been partnering with different wireless charging groups already. For example, Qualcomm, which started A4WP, announced last fall it would be joining the 200 companies that are a part of the WPA to the surprise of many tech experts. Now that A4WP is joining forces with PWA, it appears that all the major groups are connected. Fast track to walking into a coffee shop and being able to put your tablet and smart phone on a charging pad and dumping your cord in the trash, right? Not so fast.

“This is the first of many steps,” says Dr. Grajski. Though he would not comment on the timeline for any companies in rolling out new wireless charging tech, he pointed out that several companies demoed multi-mode charging (using multiple technologies) at CES in January. A release from the two groups also outlined these more technical immediate steps:

  • PMA adopts the A4WP Rezence specification as the PMA magnetic-resonance charging specification for both transmitters and receivers in both single and multi-mode configurations.
  • A4WP adopts the PMA inductive specification as a supported option for multi-mode inductive, magnetic-resonance implementations.      
  • A4WP to collaborate with PMA on their open network API for network services management.

He also wouldn’t comment specifically about what this partnership would mean with regard to WPC, but reiterated that the ultimate goal of the partnership was to “outline a path toward industry consolidation,” and A4WP would be open to working with WPC and other industry leaders.

“It is a puzzle and WPC is a part of that,” he says.

And it’s a puzzle all parties involved probably want to solve as soon as possible. IHS Technology, a telecoms analysis group, says the global market for wireless power receivers and transmitters is expected to rise to 1.7 billion unit shipments in 2023.

"This liaison agreement serves to accelerate an interoperable wireless charging ecosystem seen as critical to the broad adoption by consumers,” says Ryan Sanderson, associate director of power supply and storage components at IHS. 

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