End in sight for wireless power standards war as field shrinks to two

Airfuel Alliance tries to chip away at Wireless Power Consortium

Nikola Tesla's fake lightning, Recuerdos de Pandora on Flickr CC2.0 license

ICGS The battle for wireless power supremacy is now a straight fight between two groups following the merger of the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) and the Power Matters Alliance (PMA) into the Airfuel Alliance.

"AirFuel technology is the next step in fast-tracking the commercialization of wirelessly charged products," said Ron Resnick, president of AirFuel Alliance. "We embrace a new, inclusive ideal of wireless charging and those member companies within AirFuel Alliance are energized towards bringing wireless power products to consumers globally."

The merger, announced in February last year, is now complete but there is still work to be done in folding the two different wireless power standards into one.

The magnetic inductive and resonance technology used by PMA charges one device at a time while it is close to the charging pad; A4WP's Rezence magnetic resonance standard can power multiple devices from a single nearby power pad.

Intel is a big investor in PMA: at the firm's Capital Global Summit this week Kirk Skaugen, GM of Intel's client computing group, raved about the possibilities of the technology. It was going to be central to Intel's goal of eliminating wires from computing, and getting rid of chargers that litter landfill sites and hotel lost-and-found boxes across the world.

"We need to eliminate the, on average, six cables that each of us carry every day," he said. "We are going to make wireless technology ubiquitous with Rezence, be it wearable, tablet, phone or PC, all with the same technology."

So what about the competition? The Airfuel Alliance is going up against the Wireless Power Consortium's (WPC) Qi (pronounced chee) standard, which uses magnetic induction and resonant modes to provide contactless and close-contact charging. John Perzow, veep of market development at the WPC, told The Reg he wasn't concerned by Tuesday's news.

"They've announced a name and a trademark but that doesn't really change anything," he explained. "It certainly implies that new products will have ability to be loosely and closely charged but there are a number of really significant technology differences between PMA and A4WP's approach and one has to question if they can merge into one standard."

Even if this is possible, particularly in a way that ensures backward compatibility with existing PMA and A4WP hardware, Perzow said that the Airfuel Alliance has one major disadvantage – very few people are using it.

There are around 15 million Airfuel Alliance-compatible devices in the field today, while the WPC's Qi standard has more than ten times that number. Some manufacturers, such as Samsung, pack both sides' hardware in its phones, but the vast bulk of wireless chargers out there come are Qi-only.

Even Apple went for Qi charging with its smartwatch, although it did bugger about with the software to ensure that most WPC chargers won’t work with the device – thus keeping Cupertino's customers locked into proprietary hardware.

Intel's support is going to be vital to the Airfuel Alliance's plans for wireless charging domination, but it's not going to be a deciding factor. The chip giant has backed the wrong horse in the past (remember WiMax) and there are no guarantees.

The logical solution to a standards war is for both sides to collaborate and merge, but since when has logic ruled a standards war? Certainly a merger is possible, but Perzow said that it would have to recognize the realities of the situation.

"We talk weekly trying to find ways to merge the two groups," he said. "But Qi is so widely deployed, with 150 million devices in use, that whatever deal gets struck has to acknowledge that. We've made a promise to consumers who invested in us, but we are also looking for common ground." ®


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