Wireless chargers get first industry standard

Wireless chargers for mobile phones and other portable gadgets are poised to take off in a big way with the release of Qi 1.0, the first industry standard for wireless inductive charging technology, as well as the first products to be certified under the standard.

Qi 1.0 - officially unveiled by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) last month - is an open standard finalized in July that covers low-power charging up to 5 watts and can be downloaded for free from the WPC website.

The "Qi" logo (pronounced "chee", as in the Chinese character for "vital energy") will serve as a brand to signify to consumers that the products are independently certified interoperable.

The first Qi-certified products out of the gate - unveiled at a launch event last month in Hong Kong - include inductive charging mats from Hong Kong-based company ConvenientPower and battery maker Energizer.

Energizer also launched a Qi charging sleeve for the iPhone 3G/3G S and a Qi door for the BlackBerry Curve.

WPC chairman Menno Treffers said the consortium standard was critical for wireless charging to catch on, citing an iSuppli report from June that said wireless charging unit shipments would spike from 3.6 million this year to 240 million by 2014 - but only once an industry standard is in place.

"Without a standard, the wireless charging market will be heavily fragmented with incompatible products, and customers will hesitate to adopt them," he said.

Petri Vuori, director of mobile solutions R&D at Nokia - which supports the Qi standard, as does Samsung, LG, RIM and Sony-Ericsson - said the need for wireless charging was being driven by the growing dilemma of smartphones requiring more power for apps, video and broadband data via 3.5G and Wi-Fi, and the inability of the battery industry to evolve fast enough to keep up.

"The products have to be small, which limits how much power you can have because you cannot make the battery bigger without making the device bigger," he said. "So you can work to reduce power consumption, which we're doing, and also come up with easier ways to charge the phone."

That means making chargers easy to access and activate - not just at home or at the office, but anywhere - and make them affordable and interoperable, Vuori said.

Affordability may be relative - Energizer's charging mat, for example, will retail for $89 when it goes on sale next month, while its iPhone and BlackBerry accessories will cost almost $40 each. But Treffers said interoperability will drive up volumes and lower prices

Treffers says the first phase of Qi product rollouts will consist of charging stations bundled with mobile phones and other portable consumer electronics, followed a year later by more sophisticated chargers designed as lifestyle products for living rooms.

The third phase will see Qi products integrated into furniture such as desks and tabletops, enabling hotels, restaurants and offices to install complementary charging surfaces. There are also plans to install Qi technology in automobiles and trains, Treffers said.
"That's the dream - to go from bundled chargers to chargers becoming part of the infrastructure around us, where any flat surface can be used as a charger," he said.

Development of a medium-power extension of up to 120 watts for devices such as netbooks, laptops, tablets, and power tools is scheduled to start in October.