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Wireless-charging power struggle latest: Qualcomm invades rival to kill upstart

Chip giant disguises itself as a Trojan horse

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Despite founding a wireless charging standards body - the Alliance for Wireless Power - chip-designer Qualcomm has joined the board of competing body the Wireless Power Consortium in the hope of trouncing a third rival, the Power Matters Alliance.

Qualcomm joined the board of the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) last week, but has now told electronic engineer mag EE Times that the plan is to work from the inside to merge the two standards. This could deliver a fatal blow to the upstart Power Matters Alliance, despite the apparent incompatibility between the WPC and the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) that Qualcomm leads.

The WPC standard is the only one of the three competing standards for proximity charging actually built into hardware. Its Qi standard has been integrated into handsets from Nokia, Samsung and Google, but in founding the Alliance for Wireless Power with Samsung in 2012 Qualcomm seemed to have rejected the Qi standard as inferior and was set to go its own way.

Samsung is also a member of both standards, though not on the board of the Consortium. The Register asked Samsung about its divided loyalties when the Galaxy S4 was launched with Qi support (via an optional replacement back) and were told that different devices would require different technologies – Samsung's way of saying it would be betting on all the horses in the race to ensure victory.

Qualcomm is being more explicit in its intentions: "Qualcomm aims to provide the opportunity to standardize around a single global implementation of resonant wireless power technology by working more closely with other industry innovators," the company told EE Times, going on to say that the WPC has already extended its standard to incorporate some of the advantages of A4WP.

Chief amongst those is the ability to charge at a distance, as much as 10cm. Which might not sound like a lot, but opens the potential to charge a pocketed phone from a car door, or the arm of a chair, so the user never has to remember to charge their device at all.

Qi has extended in that direction, but not by as much as A4WP. As it operates on an entirely different frequency the possibilities for compatibility are limited.

Meanwhile, A4WP still says devices will be forthcoming next year, while the Power Matters Alliance points out its chargers are in Starbucks – even if one has to buy a special phone case to use them (though just to confirm Samsung's polyamorous nature one can get a replacement back for the S4 supporting Power Matters).

Kit supporting A4WP is due out next year, but with both the founders playing the field only Intel seems to be staying loyal to the most-technically-advanced form of wireless charging, and punters are still deafening in their ambivalence to the whole idea. ®

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