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Wireless charging standards: Can they all coexist?

09 Apr 2015  | Pavan Pudipeddi

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The global market for wireless charging is expected to increase 40-fold from $216 million in 2013 to $8.5 billion by 2018, according to IHS.1 The evolution of the sector, however, is affected by the existence of several mutually incompatible standards. Looking to the future, the question for many developers is whether or not all of these standards can coexist in one consolidated, affordable, and efficient standard for wireless charging.

Although wireless power transfer was conceptualized more than a century ago, it has gained relevance in the past few years, especially after the emergence of standards like Wireless Power Consortium (WPC, 2008), Power Matters Alliance (PMA, 2012), and Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) a.k.a. Rezence (2012).

The key stakeholders in the value chain are device manufactures like Samsung, Microsoft (Nokia), HTC, and LG; Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) like Primax, Uway, and Samsung Electromechanical; semiconductor companies like TI, IDT, Freescale, Qualcomm, Intel, Mediatek, and Broadcom; and infrastructure companies like McDonalds, Marriott, and Starbucks, which are adopting wireless charging as a value added service to their customers.

Wireless charging—apart from being a consumer electronic accessory—can extend to utilisation in the home accessories, medical, automotive, industrial, and defence applications. Swedish furniture company Ikea recently announced launch of a slew of wireless charging products embedded into their table lamps offerings.2 The idea of wireless power charging along with its application and use cases have been successfully sold to the consumer, but the mainstream adoption of the technology has still not reached the expected levels. One of the main reasons for this is due to the existence of multiple standards and the major operators (in the US) supporting competing standards.

Two distinct possibilities that can emerge out of the current standards landscape:

 • The emergence of a single standard that will drive the quicker adoption of technology.
 • Workaround to support multi-mode wireless charging, where a single transmitter/receiver can support multiple (WPC/PMA/A4WP) standards
If we look across the value chain from technical specification (from standards bodies) to proof-of-concept, product development, manufacturing, and to the finished product, there are several factors that constitute a good overall experience of creating, delivering, and capturing value for a particular technology. These are bare essentials for the technology to thrive. Specific to wireless charging, the key factors in order of priority are:

Affordability: Cost effective from a wholesale and retail standpoint with less overheads

Usability: Enhancing the ease of use by way of free positioning, multi-device charging, and potentially the ability to charge at a distance

Quality and safety: compliance with industry-specific guidelines for safe use of the technology

Interoperability/backward compatibility: Within and across standards

Technology proliferation: Extending use-case scenarios to other applications through customisation and/or optimisation

Comparison of existing standards
To analyse whether standards can converge or collaborate, it is important to understand the technical differences and features of each of the existing open standards. Previously in several technology articles or blogs, such comparisons have been made. But along with that we will identify the Pros and Cons associated with each standard.

Wireless Power Consortium
The WPC announced a wireless power standard called "Qi" (pronounced Chee) in 2008, which was the first major step towards commercialisation of wireless power technology for mainstream electronic consumer devices.

Qi uses the principle of magnetic induction in a transformer circuitry, where the transmitter and receiver coils engage at a close proximity enabling power transfer.4 The transmitter works on low operating voltage depending on the type of coil. The current generated in the transmitter (primary) coil creates a magnetic field, which in turn induces a current in the receiver (secondary) coil. The current received is used for powering up the batteries of receiver devices like mobile phones, tablets, cameras and smart watches. The transmitter supplies consistent power and voltage levels to the receiver. The Qi standard defines a communication protocol where the amount of power transferred and received is optimum. There exists a communication packet transfer protocol between receiver and transmitter that is associated with discovery of the receiver by the transmitter, status and configuration information of the receiver, power levels required by the receiver, and the end of power transmission.

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