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Business | September 06, 2012

New Nokia phone to help establish wireless power, Qi standard

Nokia's announcement that its upcoming Lumia 920 smartphone will have integrated wireless charging is an important milestone for the development of this market.
Nokia Shipments of wireless power enabled devices are projected to grow from 5 million units this year to close to 100 million by 2015, according to IMS Research. Phones that integrate wireless power functionality, such as the Lumia 920, will be critical to driving this adoption.

Having wireless charging capability built-in from the factory is a key factor to bringing the technology into the mainstream, according to Jason dePreaux, an analyst with IMS Research. “When you talk about establishing this market, the only way to do so is by building wireless power ability into devices. With increased shipments come reduced costs and less bulky designs that do not require additional sleeves or back doors. The future of the market depends on more smartphones having wireless power ‘baked-in’ like the new Lumia.”

For handset makers, including wireless power is no small commitment as it means that the additional price for wireless power components must be absorbed into its bill of materials cost.

dePreaux adds that Nokia is not the first to add wireless power as a standard feature. “A couple of years ago Palm had added its Touchstone technology standard to its smartphones. More recently, LG’s LTE2 in Korea has included wireless charging. With Nokia’s announcement, we now have a global flagship phone that will help bring the experience to more users.”

One difficulty with wireless power is that it takes two pieces of equipment to function. Even with the wireless charging built-in the phone, the user still needs a transmitter, which is usually small pad to drop the phone on. The convenience becomes more powerful when these transmitters are available in public areas. This was obvious to Nokia when they also announced partnerships with cafés and airports to install wireless charging “plates” for users to charge their phones.

The Lumia 920 will be interoperable with “Qi,” the standard promoted by the Wireless Power Consortium, an alliance of more than 120 companies. dePreaux comments, “There is something of a format war brewing with the wireless power area. Samsung has joined with Qualcomm to promote a rival standard. Intel has its own take on wireless power and is looking to include it into PCs. Powermat continues to ship its accessory based approach in the US. There’s a lot of activity. Some component suppliers like IDT are hedging their bets and participating in multiple efforts. So you can say it’s a bit fragmented at the moment.”

Will Nokia’s leadership in wireless power tip the scales in favor of Qi? dePreaux is measured in his reaction. “Clearly the Wireless Power Consortium has been successful in getting its Qi technology into phones from LG and Nokia and it continues to build on an impressive list of certified products. But few expect the Lumia to ship nearly the volume of Apple’s iPhone or Samsung’s Galaxy S3. The battle may not be won until one of these two takes a bold move. In the meantime, Nokia just gave Qi its biggest endorsement yet.”

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