It cannot be easy trying to get over 100 technology and electronics companies working together towards a common goal.
However, this is the job of Menno Treffers, the chairman of the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which was founded in late 2008 to make sure that wireless charging products are all able to work together.
“When they work together then the end value for the consumer is much better than if it is a proprietary solution only. We cooperate because we think it benefits the end user,” says Menno.
The Qi standard
Eighteen months after its first meeting in Hong Kong, the WPC adopted the Qi (pronounced chi) wireless charging standard. Any product bearing the Qi logo is a guarantee of interoperability, which offers both convenience and peace of mind for the people who buy them.
Conversations spoke to Menno, who lives in the Netherlands, about the WPC, why innovation is not being stifled and how we will soon be able to recharge our phones practically everywhere we go.
What’s your background, Menno?
I have a PhD in physics, although that was a long time ago! I worked in R&D with Philips Electronics mainly in software engineering but in the last 10-15 years I have been involved with creating interface standards. I have been involved in DVD-recordable, Blu-Ray, Super Audio CD and all kinds of optical recording standards.
How does the WPC work?
We have five to six meetings every year. They are three-day meetings and hosted by one of the members in turn. Companies like Philips, Nokia and Texas Instruments they each send two to four people.
It is a significant investment, not just in time at meetings but there is a lot of homework done, prototypes built, which are also shown at the meetings for testing and to compare them, to see if they really work together.
What are the major obstacles facing the WPC?
I think the obstacles are not in the technology but it is in organising the ecosystem around it. You have to design an interface specification, test procedures and test labs have to work together.
Also, there is the chicken and egg problem. For example, if Nokia puts this in their phone, then there is more value if more companies do it as well. So companies are all looking at each other, discussing what is the right time, when do we start, if the costs are low enough, if the added value is enough and do we do this together?
This coordination of bringing things together, but at the same time still differentiating your products; that is the most complicated part. You don’t want to do it on your own and you also want to be the first.
Doesn’t working together stifle innovation?
We are only specifying what is necessary to make the products work together and we don’t discuss anything else outside of that.
It’s not product specification and that is a very important difference. It is a bit like the GSM standards for mobile phones – they are interface standards. They don’t say anything about what the phone looks like, the displays or the battery consumption. So this is really an interface standard and it does not stifle innovation at all.
So if companies want to make a charger that is using different coils or different frequencies then they can get the Qi logo on the charger providing that they can prove that it still works with all the other receivers. You will still see a whole range of chargers appear and they will do all kinds of interesting stuff.
As well as mobile phones, what other products can benefit from wireless charging?
On the receiver side it is everything that has a battery at the moment. Still cameras will be another big category, particularly if you want a camera that is waterproof. It is completely sealed and you don’t need to have a connector anymore.
On the transmitter side, there are things like speaker docking stations. Nokia already has one for the Lumia 920. The difficulty with audio docks is that you need power, so you’ll always have to use USB connectors but they are in different positions and it is all very inconvenient.
With wireless power, the need for a connector is gone. You have the power already and for data you can use Bluetooth; for video you can use WiFi or WiFi Direct and for pairing you use NFC.
How much of a boost for the Qi standard is the release of the Nokia Lumia 920 and Nokia Lumia 820?
It is a boost, particularly in the US, Europe and China. I can’t wait to have the Lumia 920 available in Holland!
In Japan, wireless charging has been mainstream for a while and you can already see the benefits appearing. The more people that have wireless charging phones, then the more places will provide wireless charging facilities. It’s a very strong network effect.
If more people have it then it becomes more interesting for coffee shops to offer it, for public transport to offer it and to have it embedded in cars. This could not happen with a proprietary system because it would be too expensive to develop an ecosystem for just a small market of phones.
What progress do you see being made in 10 years?
Wireless charging will be everywhere: hotel rooms, office furniture and coffee shops. People will be able to top up the battery of their phone everywhere.
The transmitters work forever, as there are no connectors and no moving parts. So there are no maintenance problems, you just build it in the infrastructure and keep it there.
The WPC in its current form will be finished and it will become an organisation, which is licensing the Qi logo and making sure that the compatibility tests are properly done.