Ryan Sanderson, IHS
The market for wireless charging hasn’t quite taken off as quickly as many in the industry had hoped. Last year, shipments of wireless power receivers grew to 20 million units. These included receivers in accessory/add-on products, and those built into to a device so it’s enabled to charge wirelessly straight out of the box. In fact the majority of these were accounted for by built-in solutions in smartphones and tablets, demonstrating that the technology can be miniaturised and successfully implemented for such applications. Despite this growth in demand, IHS revealed that only 5 million wireless transmitters (chargers) shipped in the same period. So why hasn’t there already been mass adoption of this technology?
The development steeplechase
A number of barriers and challenges still exist. Consumer awareness of wireless charging is still extremely low. A recent survey carried out by IHS revealed that out of one thousand consumers, two thirds still did not know or understand what wireless charging is. This is understandable from the lack of advertising we see for wireless charging, even from larger OEMs who are early adopters. But why are major OEMs and solution providers not screaming about their wireless charging products from the rooftops?
IHS believes that a large element of this is still due to competing standards. Manufacturers who have already developed existing products based around a single wireless charging specification are concerned that the one they used could be obsolete in a few years. Those that haven’t yet adopted wireless charging in their products are sitting back to see which specification will be become most widely adopted.
A choice of technologies
In addition to multiple specifications, there are also multiple technologies. PMA and WPC (Qi) first generation specifications are based on closely coupled inductive charging technology, whilst the A4WP (Rezence) specification is based on a loosely coupled technology, termed in the industry as magnetic resonance. The WPC has also announced it’s working on a magnetic resonance specification.
The consumer survey from IHS revealed that well over half of consumers who indicated an interest in wireless charging had never heard of one of the above alliances, though almost all agreed that interoperability across all wireless charging products is crucial.
IHS forecasts that adoption of wireless charging will accelerate towards the end of 2014, as solutions become commercially available which offer a greater level of interoperability. Broadcom recently announced the release of a multi-mode IC which it claims supports the specifications from all three alliances and automatically detects and switches between them. MediaTek announced it was sampling a similar product earlier this year.
IHS believes that solutions like these will result in greater OEM confidence when developing wireless charging solutions and provide a “stepping-stone” for increased adoption, but they will demand a premium. It predicts that long-term growth and mass adoption will be dependent on a single-mode solution which will enable costs to be minimised.
IHS forecasts the number of devices shipped annually that are enabled to charge wirelessly to increase to over 50 million in 2014 and accelerate to 900 million in 2018. This is projected to drive a combined market for wireless power receivers and transmitters worth $8.5 billion in 2018.