Qi wireless charging is way ahead of Powermat, says Wireless Power Consortium chair Menno Treffers.
By Peter Judge
Despite some big announcements from the Powermat-backed Power Matters Consortium (PMA), the Wireless Power Consortium claims its long-established Qi standard is well ahead in the wireless charging race.
The PMA, built around technology from Powermat, has support from Google, Delta Airlines, AT&T and Starbucks and the group plans to install charging points in public places while getting its technology installed in phones. However, PMA supporter Google is already backing a different standard – Qi.
The LG-made Nexus 4 phone, includes wireless charging using the Qi standard from the Wireless Power Consortium, which is also built into Nokia Lumia devices, and number of Japanese phones.
There can only be one
“Why is Google doing both? I struggle to understand it,” WPC chair Menno Treffers told TechWeekEurope. We spoke to him following the announcement while awaiting clarification from Google and Powermat.
Treffers believes the PMA announcement is a response to the success of Qi in the market and is an effort to try and build Powermat’s role.
As well as the Nexus 4 phone, Qi is built into the Nokia Lumia 920 phone, which is Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 flagship device. “Along with the camera, wireless charging is a key feature of the Lumia,” said Treffers.
More importantly, wireless charging is becoming established in Japan, and Qi is used there, meaning different phones are compatible with each others charging mats.
“This is something where there will be only one standard,” he said “We will see it in infrastructures, in coffee shops etc, and they will converge automatically to a single standard. It is highly nonlinear: everyone in the industry will in the end get to a single standard, like they did with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth headsets.”
Follow the money!
If that’s the case, shouldn’t the standard be an official one, though? Rival technologies always want an endorsement from a standards body and the PMA appears to have that as it is operating within the IEEE Standards Association. Have they stolen a march on Qi, we asked?
“IEEE-SA is more of a service to members, a secretariat,” said Treffers. The PMA group is hosted there, but there is no endorsement from the IEEE’s formal standards wing, he said. Indeed, there might be problems when that happens, as Powermat will have to agree to share its patents.
“You have to follow the money,” said Treffers. A proprietary technology such as Powermat which becomes a de facto standard, could bring in large amounts of cash to its owner, since it can charge a small amount for every single handset that implements the technology. All patents in the Qi specification are licensed free of charge to WPC members, Treffers told us.
The trial in Starbucks coffee shops might seem to be a big win for PMA, but Treffers believes that Powermat is paying to have it happen. “You have think of this from the point of view of the coffee shop owner,” he said, adding that the owner would only put in a charging pad when enough customers have phones to use it, unless it is paid for by the company making the chargers.
Public Qi charging points are appearing in Japan, he said, and Nokia sponsored a similar trial for chargers in American Airlines lounges when it launched the Lumia phone.
Finally, the Qualcomm backed A4WP alliance seems to be promoting the idea of more advanced wireless charging, using resonance rather than plain induction. Could this give a lead? “No,” said Treffers. “It is all about the money. Talking about the technology features is a smokescreen.”
Qi-charging phones are compatible with resonance based chargers operating at a distance he said, pointing to a video demo on the WPC site.
We have asked Google for clarification of why it is apparently supporting two wireless charging standards, but had no response at the time of publication.