Google And Starbucks Back Powermat’s PMA Wireless Charging Tech


Rival Qi group claims big lead in the market, though

The race to develop a wireless charging standard has intensified as three rival consortiums have announced developments to technologies for powering up devices without having to plug them in. Established charging consortium WPC says this is a response to the success of its Qi standard.

On the surface, the big news is that tech giant Google has backed a new group, the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), which seems to be putting forward technology from Powermat (Power Mat – Power Matters, get it?) as a standard, and pushing to get chargers installed in public places. Powermat is working with the IEEE standards body, and Starbucks is testing PMA chargers in its Boston coffee shops.

However, the most established wireless charging standard activity, the Qi (“chee”) specification, which has already been built into Nokia phones (as well as phones from Google), claims to have the lead in the market, and another newcomer, the Alliance For Wireless Power (A4WP) which has just revealed its own flexible wireless power specification.

Wireless charging wars

Why the WPC thinks the Qi standards thinks it will beat PMA

PMA, founded by Powermat Technologies (a Duracell company) can now count one of the founding fathers of the Internet, Google Internet evangelist, Vint Cerf as its Honorary Chairman and spokesman. The US Government’s Energy Star and Federal Communications Commission are both members and board observers.

Powermat Technologies has contributed its technology to PMA, and shared it with the other founder members. It has started working within the the IEEE Standards Association – but this does not seem to constitute a formal wireless power standard, merely “Power Matters Activity” mentioned in the PMA release, and not found on the IEEE site.

AT&T has said it will develop products using the standard, while wireless chargers will be available in select Starbucks coffee houses (initially a trial in Boston). Such chargers are already present in Delta Airlines lounges, Madison Square Garden and even Jay Z’s nightclub.

“An Internet of ‘smart things’ is rapidly evolving and most of them are powered electrically. Google cares greatly about a future where power can be wireless, smart and environmental,” said Cerf. “The PMA is about doing for power what the Internet did for data. With the help of Starbucks, AT&T, P&G, Powermat and so many others I believe this goal is finally within reach.”

“We believe the PMA has the right organisational framework, the right institutional backing and the most promising technological platform,” added Jeff Howard, vice president of devices and accessories at AT&T. “We look forward to a future where all of our devices can charge seamlessly in the home, in the car and in the coffee shop – and expect that such a future is at hand.”

More than one rival

Meanwhile, wireless charging using the Qi spec has been developing for at least three years from the Wireless Power Consortium, and Qi is included in recent smartphones, such as the Nokia Lumia 920 and LG Nexus 4 – backed by Google. The WPC includes 129 companies, including phone makers, wireless carriers and original equipment and design manufacturers. Powermat was a member, but resigned last year.

WPC is treating the PMA announcement as an endorsement of the concept, but emphasises its market lead – with large numbers of Qi enabled phones already sold in Japan. “It is all a sign of success,”  WPC chair Menno Treffers told TechWeekEurope. Powermat is  pushing its proprietary standard hard at the moment, Treffers said, because of WPC’s success with Qi, which vendors can install without royalty payments in their mobile phones.

Wireless, mobile, antenna © Dalibor Shutterstock 2012Meanwhile in May, a new group A4WP (Alliance for Wireless Power) appeared, apparently based around Qualcomm technology, and its working technical committee has just approved a different, which it presents as more future proof, in that it allows for the simultaneous charging of multiple devices with different power requirements. Chargers can be installed into almost any surface and will leverage existing wireless technologies such as Bluetooth 4.0. Samsung and Qualcomm are among its members, which will meet this week to discuss strategies to bring the standard to market.

Qualcomm, of course, makes the Halo Wireless charging system which is being proposed for electric cars. This is a higher-power spec aimed at providing kiloWatts of poer, but it uses  resonant charging which can operate at longer distances than the inductive charging used in Powermat’s current products.

“Approval of the A4WP wireless power specification establishes a true path forward for the commercialization of wireless charging that will satisfy the needs of most consumers,” said Dr. Kamil A. Grajski, president of the A4WP. “A4WP and its members will now set their sights on building compliant wireless applications that can be integrated by key industries including automotive, furniture and retail.”

“We endorse the A4WP specification because it is designed from the ground up to support this multi-device lifestyle and gives consumers the best available wireless charging experience,” said Ki Ho Kim, Executive Vice President of Samsung Electronics.

A4WP may be  promoting itself as the future (thanks to its use of inductive charging), but Qi is installed in products already, and is compatible with inductive charging, version of its technology. And A4WP has also got the ubiquitous Powermat as a member.

Update: Read our interview with the Wireless Power Consortium’s Menno Treffers.  

We still await clarifications from PMA, Powermat and Google.

Additional reporting  by Steve McCaskill

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