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Wireless Charging: Advancements Bring New Promise For Smartphone

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Wireless charging products, including charging mats designed for smart- phones, have been available for years. The wireless charging industry now appears primed to take off in new, interesting directions, however. July 2012 projections from Pike Research (.pikeresearch.com), for example, predict revenues from wireless power systems (mobile de vices, consumer electronics, electric vehicles, etc.) will mushroom from $4.9 billion this year to $15.1 billion in 2020. If true, efforts currently in the works will likely play a significant role.

One such effort is Qi (which is pronounced “chee”), an open standard championed by the Wireless Power Consortium (www.wreIesspowerconsor tium.com), an association of 127 companies with industry ties to mobile phone, consumer electronics, infrastructure, semiconductor, component, battery, and wireless power technologies. Notably, Qi removes a sizable obstacle that has slowed user adoption of wireless charging solutions to date: compatibility among devices.

Description: Advancements Bring New Promise For Smartphone Charging

Advancements Bring New Promise For Smartphone Charging

The Qi Way

Established in 2008, the WPC published a low-power specification for Qi in 2009 for delivery of up to 5 watts power. The WPC extended the specification in 2011 to medium power for delivery of up to 120 watts. In 2009, the WPC certified the first Qi-based product, and today, there are 110 consumer products carrying the Qi logo, translating to 8.5 million-plus units globally, including 6 million in the United States and 2 million in Japan. More than 120 corn-panics support Qi, which is found in products such as smartphones, charging pads, gaming controllers, Blu-ray Disc recorders, docks, auto mobile phone chargers, alarm clocks, and charging modules integrated into tabletops and furniture.

In short, Qi uses magnetic induction technology to enable charging devices without cords. Place a device using integrated Qi technology or a Qi accessory (such as an adapter) on a Qi-enabled charging surface and charging occurs. Qi stands apart from proprietary solutions in that any Qi device works with any Qi charger or surface. Thus, a smartphone from one manufacturer works with a charger from another, meaning a user could charge her Qi-enabled smartphone in, say, a café or airport where a Qi charger is available.

Menno Treffers, WPC chairman, says Qi isn’t “a proprietary system supported by one or two companies only. It’s broadly supported in the industry, and that’s really necessary to make this into something that will become broadly available.” With Qi, he says, “you just put the phone on the desk. When it rings you pick it up. When you want to make a call, you pick it up, and all the time when it’s on the desk it charges.”

Currently, a typical office-based Qi scenario might involve setting a Qi-enabled smartphone on a charging “plate” on a desktop, but someday that charger could be built into the desktop. “You just put the phone on the desk, which I do anyway, make calls and receive calls, and don’t bother with connecting and disconnecting the phone,” Treffers says. The result is no longer worrying (at least as much) about battery life and the phone being constantly ready. Further, Qi can charge devices as quickly as a wired charger, Treffers says, as Qi’s delivery of 5 watts is “significantly more than what you get from a standard USB desktop PC port.”

Description: In short, Qi uses magnetic induction technology to enable charging devices without cords.

In short, Qi uses magnetic induction technology to enable charging devices without cords.

Spreading Qi

Qi, which translates to “vital energy” from Chinese, is that it’s a standard, something Treffers says enables driving down costs and getting suppliers and infrastructure players interested. “You can see that already now with Qi. I see so many companies investing in it.” A recent example is Nokia’s Lumia 920, a Windows Phone 8 smartphone with integrated Qi technology. The new Lumia 820 also supports Qi, albeit via a removable shell accessory.

Additionally, Nokia is also partnering with national café chain Coffee [lean & Tea Leaf to implement wireless charging plates at various locations. Treffers characterizes Nokia’s announcements as “a tipping point” for Qi. Japan, however, is “past tip ping point.” Elsewhere, the Kitchen 67 restaurant in Grand Rapids, Mich., recently announced it will enable customers to charge Qi devices via wireless charging technology integrated into tabletops. Reportedly, 120-plus locations in Japan already offer Qi wireless power charging stations in tables.

Description: A recent example is Nokia’s Lumia 920, a Windows Phone 8 smartphone with integrated Qi technology.

A recent example is Nokia’s Lumia 920, a Windows Phone 8 smartphone with integrated Qi technology.

“There are no inherent road blocks the standard has to overcome,” Treffers says. “The spec is available. We have the certification available. The ICs [integrated circuits] are available. It’s now just a matter of getting the products into the consumers’ hands. The driving factor is the adoption of mobile phones as an integrated feature, not as a backdoor option or sleeve, but integrated into the phone.” Treffers says Qi adoption is occurring faster than expected. “Compared to a standard like Bluetooth, I think we’re doing slightly better than what’s been done historically,” he says. Achieving mainstream in acceptance is now a matter of phone manufacturers explaining Qi to users. “Consumers aren’t interested in the standard as such. They want to see it implemented in the product.”

The WPC is now working to ex tend Qi to deliver lo to 15 watts. “For tablets, you need more than 5 watts to have a reasonable charging experience,” Treffers says. “The ex-tension we’re working on now will provide 10 to 15 watts into the receiver, arid that’s something that becomes interesting for tablets.”

Also Of Note

In addition to Qi there are other wireless charging efforts in the works. One attracting attention is Intel’s (www.intel.com) Wireless Charging Technology, first demoed in 2008. In late August, Intel and Integrated Device Technology (www .idt.com) announced IDT will create chipsets supporting the technology. An Intel blog stated IDT’s involvement “leads to a solution that isn’t limited to inductive charging and ‘smartphone on a charging mat’ usage.” Further, I DT’s resonance wireless charging technology “simplifies the way the PC charges the phone wirelessly.”

Intel says it is working with peripheral makers, OEMs, and others to “deliver a cost-effective and simpler path to wireless charging.” Usage— wise, Intel suggests imagining a wireless charging solution integrated into an Ultrabook. Upon starting WCT detection software, a user set a smartphone roughly an inch from the Ultrabook, after which “coupling takes place between the two devices and energy begins to seamlessly and wirelessly flow from the Ultrabook to the smartphone.” Within an hour the smartphone would be sufficiently recharged to make it through the afternoon, according to Intel. IDT plans to deliver a full chipset solution for reference design by early 2013. Intel, however, isn’t setting a timeframe for availability of WCT- enabled consumer products.

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