Will Wireless Phone Charging Become Reality

Charging your phone wirelessly may not be a dream.

Over the decades we’ve figured out how to eliminate cables for sound, video, text, phone calls and data. There’s only one major cable left to eliminate: the power cord. Several companies are working hard on charging through the air, keeping our phones in our pockets . However, there are some holdups.

To start with, most of these technologies work by transmitting RF (radio-frequency) waves. Future tech will have to be equipped with receivers to convert the waves back into power.

That is how Powercast’s technology works. Since 2010 this company has been selling industrial products that can recharge at a distance. Unfortunately, their technology transmits only microwatts or milliwatts (millionths or thousandths of a watt), which is nowhere close to enough for charging a phone. Even worse, it can’t track your gadget’s position in the room; you have to leave the device in a predefined spot.

Companies such as Ossia and Energous have a more ambitious plan. Their transmitters contain an array of hundreds of antennas, which pinpoint your device as you move around. Energous marketing officer Gordon Bell says his products will trickle-charge your phone through the air—when it’s in your pocket.

Then there’s uBeam, which uses ultrasonic waves to transmit power. Unfortunately, this technology requires line of sight to the transmitter—so you have to hold your body in the same position all day.

The largest problem is the FCC. You can’t sell wireless tech in the U.S. until the FCC has concluded that it’s safe and doesn’t interfere with existing wireless products. At the moment, the agency permits wireless transmission in two categories: very low power at a distance (such as Wi-Fi) or higher power that is contained or localized. Clearly, neither category currently permits long-range, higher-power transmission.

Energous asserts that its power transmission is, in effect, localized, thanks to that beam-forming array. If allowed, then it and its rivals might have a shot at bringing their products to market sooner rather than later.