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Samsung, Qualcomm team up to take on Wireless Consortium

SIII's wireless charging part of WiPower relaunch

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Samsung is the promised power behind Qualcomm's relaunch of WiPower, with wireless charging coming for the SIII and the partners forming a new alliance around the technology in the hope of supplanting the nascent Qi standard and its Wireless Consortium backers.

The "Alliance for Wireless Power", which likes to be known by the Twitter-friendly moniker A4WP, is just five launch partners and a silhouette-strewn site at the moment. That compares badly to the 109 companies signed up to the "Wireless Power Consortium" (WPC) which has a handful of published standards and products on the shelves, but A4WP has Qualcomm and Samsung, which is probably more important than any physicality or technical merits of the competing standards.

Both Qi and WiPower, the standards being pushed by the consortium and alliance respectively, allow for charging of devices by induction - place a mobile phone on a desk or bedside table and it will pick up a charge from an embedded coil. Both standards support multiple devices and varying orientations, the only differences are in details which wouldn't be noticed by most people.

Qi uses a separate data channel to let a device request a specific voltage, while WiPower squeezes that into the charging cycle. WiPower claims to have longer-range charging, up to 45mm, which allows for easier integration (so a coil could be put under a kitchen counter rather than within it) and silent charging (a chair could charge the phone in your pocket), which is all quite cool: so cool that Qi last month extended its own standard to 40mm for the same reasons, only with backwards compatibility.

Not that there is much kit to be backwards-compatible with. Despite boasting Energizer, Panasonic, Sony, Nokia and HTC as members, there's surprisingly little Qi-compatible kit available and most of it is replacement cases and/or batteries for smartphones as none have the technology built in.

Not that the new Samsung flagship is any more compatible; the SIII will still need a replacement case to use any kind of wireless charging, and the price of that case is yet to be established.

In typical hedging-its-bets-style Samsung has even signed up to the Wireless Power Consortium, meaning it is currently a member of both wireless-charging standards.

Qualcomm bought Florida-based startup WiPower in 2010, and has been trying to find a use for the company ever since. In February we were told that a consumer-electronics announcement was imminent, one which would blow Qi out of the water despite its WPC backing, and now we know that Samsung was the brand involved.

But Qualcomm is very experienced at pushing its intellectual property into technical standards, so to go with the Alliance for Wireless Power we have the "Power Matters Alliance" complete with supporting video from Vint Cerf. This second alliance isn't backed by Qualcomm, but it does feature a rep from Duracell/P&G with whom Qualcomm signed a Memorandum of Understanding on WiPower back in January 2011. The second alliance is pushing for an IEEE standard on wireless charging, no doubt incorporating significant IP from WiPower.

Samsung is certainly a significant brand, and the Korean giant could probably dictate the standard if it got the whole company behind it, but Samsung is also a member of the WPC and promising to sell one replacement case is a long way wholehearted endorsement for the alliance standard.

Wireless charging is still a technology which people don't know they want, so those battling over ownership of the standard are still going to have to spend a ton of dough convincing punters to pay for it, probably followed by a decent round of patent litigation from the companies behind the losing standard. That's a long road, but its one Qualcomm knows well and for that reason alone the Alliance for Wireless Power should be taken seriously. ®

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