The Wireless Power Merger Is Official

Two of the three major wireless-charging standard groups—the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) and the Power Matters Alliance (PMA)—finally announced Monday that their plans to merge are official. After over a year of discussion, PMA and A4WP are officially becoming one, leaving the Wireless Power Consortium and its Qi wireless charging platform as the sole alternative.

While two is better than three for hardware developers trying to sort out which wireless-charging bandwagon to jump on, the combined entity has technical challenges to overcome in unifying its own efforts.

Oh, and it needs a name, too.

Inductive Versus Resonant

The PMA’s board of directors includes representatives from the likes of Duracell, Powermat Technologies, Flextronics, AT&T, and Starbucks, to name a few. A4WP, meanwhile, counts Qualcomm, Samsung, and Broadcom on its board, among others.

The union of these two organizations means a whole lot of tech companies coming together to form a wireless charging standard that PMA president Ron Resnick hopes will change the way the world powers its electronics.

The Powermat wireless charging station is based on PMA’s charging standard.

“We’d like to see this [organization] really be the [organization] that takes it global and the biggest companies in the world have bet on it,” Resnick said in an interview. “We plan to really be aggressive about building out and seeing infrastructures go everywhere for our wireless charging. So we have a lot of work ahead of us, but that’s our plan.”

Resnick said that the newly established entity plans on figuring out a name in a couple of months. What’s more important is that when the A4WP and PMA join forces, they’ll combine both of their wireless charging standards into one multi-mode solution for device-makers to rely on.

Currently, PMA’s standard relies on magnetic induction, which requires devices to be placed on a charging surface for power transfer to happen. On the other hand, A4WP’s charging standard relies on resonance charging, which pumps power out at a a greater distance, meaning devices can be a foot or two away to receive power.

“It just seemed like it was a natural evolution path to combine the two into one industry org that really does one thing: the goal is to deliver a really good experience for users regardless of what the use case is and having the different technologies work collaboratively together under one roof made a lot of sense,” said Resnick. “So both boards of directors agreed to that, and so we’re real happy that we’ve now signed the merger agreement, and we will be one industry organization.”

The WPC’s Qi standard remains an outlier, albeit one that boasts a growing list of high-profile products with its wireless charging standard built in—devices made by the likes of LG, HTC, Motorola, and Sony, to name but a few. The Samsung Galaxy S6 supports charging standards from both the PMA and Qi.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 is compatible with PMA and Qi wireless charging stations.

Resnick explained that this is a result of broad similarities between Qi and PMA’s inductive charging technology.

“The chip companies who manufacture the inductive technology, they’re already doing dual-mode,” he said, adding that their similarities make it relatively easy for devices like the Galaxy S6 to support both standards.

The new organization’s edge comes from the fact that it’ll also boast the longer-range resonant charging technology under the same umbrella.

“You can have a phone that has our resonant technology and inductive and it’s going to work,” he said. “We think that has the better story.”

Why This Matters

While it’s still not a widely used technology, wireless charging is clearly the next step in how we power our gadgets. It affects hardware makers and consumers. And common standards drive down prices over time, benefiting builders and buyers alike.

Now that there are only two organizations vying for supremacy, we’ll likely start to see a lot more devices that offer wireless charging technology. With a more binary choice in front of them, device makers will soon pick a side, just like manufacturers once did during VHS and Betamax’s infamous format wars (and the less memorable Blu-ray and HD-DVD battle a few decades later).

It’s very possible that the combined might of the PMA and A4WP could be enough to make their wireless charging stand out against the WPC’s Qi standard. Then again, if Resnick gets his wish, WPC will come into the fold before too long.

“I’d love to see a unification of the whole ecosystem,” he said. “I would absolutely encourage the WPC to approach us and figure out how we can get their inductive technology.… We’d be happy to do it.”

Lead photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite; Powermat image courtesy of Powermat; Galaxy S6 image courtesy of Samsung

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