Last week, Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) signed up for another wireless charging industry standard, making the company part of three of the biggest wireless-standard groups. But Qualcomm isn't looking to be part of what everyone else is doing -- it wants to make its own wireless-charging tech the de facto standard. If it gets its way, the company could have a huge payoff.
Untangling the wireless standards
To understand why Qualcomm is trying to standardized wireless charging -- and make a little money off of it at the same time -- we need to first understand the three competing standards.
- Power Matters Alliance standard: Often referred to by its brand name Powermat, this technology uses magnetic inductive charging that requires a device to be placed precisely in one place on a charging mat and can only charge one device at a time. It can be found in places like Starbucks and McDonalds.
- Wireless Power Consortium standard: Similar inductive technology like the Powermat, but implements a standard called Qi, which was adopted earlier by Nokia, Google, Samsung, and others. It's popularity has waned a bit as more standards have come into play.
- Alliance for Wireless Power standard: Also called A4WP, it uses magnetic resonance charging, which allows more than one device to charge at a time. Devices can be placed anywhere on the charging mat, other objects can sit on the mat at the same time and not affect charging, and it can charge devices even when objects like a magazine are in between the pad and the device.
In short, magnetic inductive charging requires a device to be in contact with a charging pad, while magnetic resonant charging has the capability of charging a device up to several feet away.
Qualcomm was one of the founding members of A4WP after it purchased the magnetic resonance charging company WiPower back in 2010. Qualcomm believes that its MR charging will become the standard some time next year, and expects devices using the standard will be built in late 2014.
So, could Qualcomm make money from all this?
Qualcomm has already licensed some of WiPower tech to other companies, and could do more of the same if A4WP becomes the mobile industry standard. WiPower filed a patent for magnetic resonance wireless charging back in 2008, four years before A4WP was established, and two years before Apple filed its own MR patent. Apple has also filed patents for wireless charging of devices while they sit on store shelves and, most recently, for a hybrid MacBook-iPad that charges the tablet while it's in a certain position in relation to the base.
Right now, it's uncertain how much Qualcomm could bring in from MR patents if the standard is implemented. But last month Qualcomm won an innovation award from research firm Frost and Sullivan for its wireless technology. The firm said in its report that it "expects this superior technology to impact wide range of applications, spanning from consumer electronics to home appliances" and that it has the competitive advantage over other systems.
While wireless charging shouldn't be the sole reason to consider investing in Qualcomm, tech investors should certainly keep tabs on how the standards play out. The company is working with Samsung on the A4WP standard and the collaboration could bring Qualcomm's technology into Samsung's popular devices. If Qualcomm can secure the new standard, it may be poised to benefit from wireless charging royalties from device makers across the tech industry.
Tapping the next trillion-dollar revolution
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