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Wireless charging powers shift as Samsung, Qualcomm take sides

Samsung said it would invest in a technology championed by the Wireless Power Consortium, while Qualcomm said it would join both the WPC and rival Power Matters Alliance.

Wireless charging stations running a standard championed by the Power Matters Alliance can be found in Madison Square Garden.
Roger Cheng/CNET

The wireless charging stars are aligning -- sort of.

Wireless charging -- or the ability to place your phone on a charging pad or table for a recharge without cables -- has been slowing making its way into smartphones and even select venues, such as Madison Square Garden and Starbucks. But broader adoption has been hampered by a three-way horse race among rival standards. But that may be changing with Samsung Electronics and Qualcomm making some big moves in the arena.

The rival groups include:

• the Power Matters Alliance, backed by Powermat Technologies and Procter & Gamble, which largely uses wireless-charging backs and covers;
• the Wireless Power Consortium, which uses a standard called Qi that's embedded into phones, such as select Nokia Lumia devices; and
• the Alliance 4 Wireless Power, which is backed by Samsung and Qualcomm.

Now, Samsung and Qualcomm have offered to throw support behind the other standards. On Tuesday, Qualcomm said it would join the PMA and work on a hybrid standard that would use both low-frequency induction (what PMA currently uses) and high-frequency resonance (what the A4WP supports).

The announcement comes after Qualcomm said it would join rival group WPC as a board member, likely with the intention to also push its high-frequency resonance technology with Qi as well.

A4WP champion Samsung on Monday said it would invest $4 million in PowerbyProxi, a company that utilizes WPC's standard for wireless charging.

Wireless charging still has strings attached

The moves at least appear to provide a little clarity to the murky world of wireless charging -- although not by much. With the A4WP's key members aligning with other groups, that does little for its proposed standard, which was seen as more of a next-generation technology that hadn't gotten off the ground beyond a few prototypes.

The PMA can at least claim a presence at Starbucks in Boston and Silicon Valley and at McDonald's restaurants in Europe. The WPC, meanwhile, can boast that multiple smartphones already have its technology embedded, from Nokia Lumia phones to select LG smartphones.

Unfortunately, the two standards, which use similar technology, aren't compatible. So the battle among wireless-charging standards rages on -- but with potentially one less opponent.