News by Andrew Kameka on Monday June 23, 2014.
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The concept of wireless charging has brought convenience to more people, yet the standard wars and need to be next to the device have skimmed off some of those benefits. A startup named Energous is building a new system that offers wire-free charging, and as strange as it might sound, there is a difference.
Wireless charging is typically done by placing a device on a pad to pass power through induction rather than a cable. Yet people are still tethered to the device because they are unable to use the phone while it charges, and in a public place like a cafe, walking away requires that the person stop the charge in order to prevent theft. That's no good, says Energous President and CEO Stephen R. Rizzone. He argues that WattUp, a system that transfers power through wireless signals in proximity to a specially made router, is the superior solution.
"I was in New York for the last few days, and I have to tell you, having people place phones on those mats and leave them for even a short period of time is not preferable," Rizzone said in an interview with MobileBurn. "That's why we offer truly wire-free and not wireless charging. Free of wires, free of cables."
WattUp works by using a transmitter that is able to beam energy to a receiver case used on a phone. The system can connect with authorized devices within 15 to 30 feet and top-up a battery even while the device is in use. It uses the same bands as WiFi routers and cordless phones, so there's less need to install charging pads that work for only one device at a time. WattUp can transmit power to up to 24 devices simultaneously and at the same speed as a device might get when plugged into a wall outlet, according to Rizzone.
The trouble with WattUp is the same as all the other wireless charging options - adoption. Introducing yet another technology and charging method means companies that have already embarrassed the pad-based solutions like Qi or Rezence would have to reverse course, an expensive and time-consuming venture. How do you tell Starbucks that its wireless charging solution doesn't make sense when the company has already spent nearly two years developing plans to put them in stores nationwide?
To that end, Energous has sought to partner with more than 60 companies that will help make WattUp deployed by next year. One of those companies happens to be the leading wireless router producer, so it would be possible to put WattUp's technology in routers and have a system that recharges devices while connecting them to the internet. That might be an easier sell to businesses. Energous has also today announced a partnership with Pocons, a mobile phone component and accessories supplier in South Korea, that will see WattUp embedded in Pocons charging solutions. Pocons General Manager Kyung Nam Lee issued this statement as part of the announcement:
"Energous currently has the most versatile wire-free charging technology in development and will help Pocons deliver a generation of charging solutions that is above and beyond competing technologies. Without a doubt, WattUp enabled wire-free charging will be a compelling sales driver for years to come."
Years to come is an ambitious claim. Rezence and Qi have a long head-start and WattUp isn't expected to be seen in commercial products until the summer of 2015. New devices with the technology will appear at CES in January, Rizzone tells me, so we're likely to see the technology's use cases soon. If Energous manages to grab more partners and educate consumers on the difference between wireless and wire-free, WattUp might be able to close that gap. WattUp is designed to be used in offices, cafes, and homes on every major personal electronics imaginable. The big targets right now are cell phones, tablets, and wearable devices, so the tech enthusiast crowd will have fewer cables to wrestle with if this catches on.
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.