The dream of a charging standard has arguably never been realized, save for some degree in the feature phone market. The Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) set out to change all that while simultaneously revolutionizing charging technology. The resulting “Qi” wireless charging standard is steadily picking up steam and has received backing from a number of major device OEMs—LG, Nokia, Samsung, Nokia. The end result could someday mean the end of wires, but more importantly, an end to anxiety over battery life. Wireless Week spoke with WPC Chairman Menno Treffers for a progress report on Qi. This is an edited transcript of that discussion. An abbreviated version of this discussion was included in Wireless Week's August print issue.

Wireless Week: Can you explain the problem that the WPC set out to solve with Qi? Menno Treffers

Menno Treffers: The WPC wanted to enable consumers to charge their devices without the hassle of cords and wires. Wireless charging provides users with an easy and flexible way to keep mobile devices powered. We believe that the market for wireless chargers needs an open standard with broad support from the industry. Proprietary charging solutions have limited appeal. 

The challenge was developing and standardizing a wireless power solution with an open platform that maximizes design freedom for product developers. So, the WPC set out to advance this idea of creating a universal, compatible wireless charging standard that would enable users to wirelessly power up their devices.

That’s why the WPC established Qi – the global standard for wireless charging. With Qi, a user can charge any Qi-enabled device using any Qi charging surface without connecting the device to cords.  Qi has great potential to simplify people’s lives, providing a convenient and interoperable way to charge mobile devices at home or on the go, regardless of manufacturer or brand.

The goal for Qi is to make wireless charging ubiquitous and embedded into everyday places where people work, live, and travel.  Consumers will be able to charge their devices wherever they go, making drained batteries a thing of the past.

WW: How many members do you currently have?

Treffers: The WPC is backed by 115 members, and that number continues to grow. A handful of our industry-leading companies include ConvenientPower, Energizer, Freescale, Semiconductor, Fulton Innovation, HTC, LG, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson, Toshiba, Texas Instruments, and Verizon Wireless. The wide variety of member companies offers consumers more choices in providers and devices.

WW: Can you explain the WPC’s decision to update the standard to allow for inductive charging to take place over longer distances (from 5mm to 40mm from the platform)?

Treffers: Recently, the WPC announced that the Qi standard is capable of providing longer range magnetic resonance wireless charging. This latest transmitter design increases the distance that devices can charge from the charging platform – all the while remaining Qi compliant. 

This transmitter design allows Qi wireless charging stations to be seamlessly integrated into a wide range of surfaces, including furniture, tabletops, kitchen counters, and automobiles. Qi-enabled devices up to 5 Watts can charge up to 40mm away from the Qi charging surface. The new design offers more freedom in device placement and convenience for consumers.

It is our goal to give manufacturers and consumers more choice, with the constraint that products have to remain compatible. These longer distance chargers are compatible with all Qi phones.

WW: Is a special case required or is Qi wireless charging built right into the device?

Treffers: Globally, Qi-enabled smartphones are already being manufactured and widely distributed in places such as Japan, Korea, and Canada.  All Japanese mobile phones have Qi wireless charging integrated into the device, including the Sharp AQUOS SH-13C and LG Optimus LTE, which do not require an external sleeve to facilitate charging. 

In the U.S., mobile phones still require a Qi-compatible sleeve or backdoor in order to charge the device on a Qi charging surface. A user simply places the sleeve on their device and can set it on any Qi charging surface to enable charging.  The device will charge the same way it would with Qi built directly into the phone.

Mobile phone carries and manufacturers are likely to take the lead in bringing Qi-enabled phones to market in the U.S. As we observed in Japan, once the Qi-enabled phones were available, mass market adoption quickly followed. This mass movement toward manufacturing Qi-embedded devices is exactly what’s happening across the globe in places like Japan and is what’s starting to happen in the U.S. market.

WW: There’s been a lot of talk about charging surfaces being built into public areas such as in airports or restaurants, where people can simply set their devices down and get a charge. Are you seeing any of that on the market yet?

Treffers: Yes. As Qi continues to gain rapid adoption and momentum around the world, Qi wireless charging stations are starting to appear in public areas and are being integrated into surfaces, including, automobiles, furniture and countertops. Similar to Wi-Fi usage, consumers will have the opportunity to wirelessly charge their mobile devices using embedded ‘wireless hot spots’ in public areas where they live, work, and travel.  

We are already seeing the development of a wireless power infrastructure in Japan. NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest mobile operator, has installed Qi wireless charging stations at more than 120 convenient locations in Japan, including airport lounges, salons, cinemas, and cafes, changing the way consumers think about charging their devices.

We are also seeing the same momentum towards the use of Qi- enabled products in the U.S.  At this year’s Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference in June, WPC member, Fulton Innovation, showcased the benefits of Qi wireless power and the value of interoperability across many different brands and devices.  Qi was on display in the “Guestroom 20x” exhibit where ordinary surfaces, such as a desk and beside tables, were transformed into a Qi wireless charging zone where you could just drop your phone down to charge.

WW: Do you foresee a company like Apple, which seems to favor proprietary accessories, being resistant to a standard like Qi?

Treffers: In the short term, there’s room in the market for a proprietary “Apple-only” wireless charger next to the universal Qi chargers. In the long term, wireless chargers will be integrated into furniture, in automobiles, offices, hotels, coffee shops, etc. Thus, in the future, proprietary charging solutions will become less attractive.

WW: Are there any novel applications for the Qi standard that people might not expect?

Treffers: Yes. Currently on the market is a Panasonic Blu-Ray Player, which has a surface equipped with Qi wireless power. Also available today is the Time and Wireless Charging Station+ by Oregon Scientific. This is a smart clock that goes beyond just telling the time.  It also includes a weather station, projection clock, and a wireless charging surface to power up Qi-enabled devices.

We also plan to integrate wireless charging into household appliances and products, creating an entire Qi wireless charging ecosystem at home. For example, imagine downloading a recipe to your smartphone and when you set it down on an appliance, it automatically beams the exact cooking settings from the recipe to the stove and begins wirelessly charging its battery. Or, when in front of the TV, you set down your phone on top of Panasonic’s Blu-Ray Player and it wirelessly charges and transmits photos or videos to the TV.