Jan 23, 2023
Power, Unleashed: Three Key Questions to Understanding the Basics of NFC Wireless Charging
Connected, battery-powered devices have transformed our existence. Yet a familiar problem remains. As the number of devices has increased, so too have the cables, plug sockets, proprietary adaptors, extensions and complex charging mechanisms that are needed.
This is bad for consumers, bad for the environment and, ultimately, bad for business in a world where convenience is a competitive point of difference.
The good news is that wireless charging technologies are freeing devices from cables to deliver an intuitive and seamless experience.
1. What is NFC Wireless Charging?
There are different approaches to wireless charging, and many will be familiar with the Wireless Power Consortium’s Qi induction charging platform. This delivers up to 15W over a distance of 4cm, and is primarily used for devices such as smartphones and tablets.
NFC Wireless Charging is a complementary specification. It currently offers induction charging up to 1W over a distance of 2cm. This is particularly well suited for small personal and wearable devices such as wireless earbuds, smart watches, digital styluses, headsets and fitness trackers.
There are other benefits to NFC wireless charging. For consumers, NFC technology is easy-to-use, familiar, trusted and convenient. And for device manufacturers, NFC Wireless Charging means a single component can serve multiple purposes. For example, one NFC antenna can be used for transferring data, making payments and wireless charging. This simplifies design, streamlines development and reduces costs, accelerating time-to-market.
2. How is NFC Wireless Charging Being Used?
Given the clear benefits, it’s perhaps unsurprising that NFC wireless charging is gaining momentum fast.
The technology has already been deployed in leading wearable products. In a strong endorsement, the Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) has standardized on NFC Wireless Charging. Given that Google Chromebooks have now standardized on USI’s stylus specification, it means that many in this market are likely to leverage the technology moving forward.
As the technology advances, the NFC Wireless Charging ecosystem is poised to encompass use-cases and applications across various product segments and industry verticals.
One of the applications is the adoption of NFC Wireless Charging to transform NFC-enabled smartphones into portable charging stations to power myriad personal and wearable devices.
Although smartphones will not be the primary means of charging these devices, it will offer consumers a convenient alternative to wall sockets and dedicated chargers if they need to top-up a battery on the go. Given the significant value, we can expect this functionality to be included in the next generation of smartphones released over the next couple of years.
This move will likely generate strong momentum for NFC Wireless Charging across the personal and wearable device market. Most smartphone manufacturers have ecosystems of accessory products such as fashion wearables, fitness trackers and earbuds, and it is logical that these will support NFC Wireless Charging. For other device manufacturers, knowing that major smartphone models support NFC Wireless Charging provides a compelling business case to commit resource to integrating the functionality.
However, it is not just consumer products where we can expect to see adoption. NFC wireless charging is very attractive for various enterprise and industrial use-cases. There is also increasing demand for NFC Wireless Charging for medical devices and hearing aids, for example.
3. What needs to happen in the marketplace to ensure NFC Wireless Charging achieves its potential?
As more applications for NFC Wireless Charging technology emerge, it is important to consider the differing requirements, opportunities and challenges. Wearables, for example, present different considerations than enterprise devices. There are a few broad areas that the industry must work to address:
- Integration and interoperability. It is fundamental to have a reliable baseline which enables worldwide interoperability between devices and that can be implemented by different solution providers across the ecosystem. This is the only way to ensure integration and realise the full benefits of NFC Wireless Charging, such as enabling multiple devices from different manufacturers to be powered by the same charger.
- Certification. Given that trust and consistency across different NFC implementations is crucial, certification becomes key. The NFC Forum’s NFC Wireless Charging certification program — Test Release 13.1 (TR13.1) — allows manufacturers to certify that their products comply with the NFC Wireless Charging (WLC) 2.0 specification. This minimizes risks for manufacturers and assures consumers that products will work as promised.
- Power output. We have seen significant progress in this area over recent years as part of the development of the original specification, and the broader benefits of NFC technology are now driving market demand to increase the power output (rather than turn to alternative solutions). Indeed, the next generation of the NFC Wireless Charging Specification aims to increase power output from 1W to 3W. This has the potential to unlock a raft of new use-cases — particularly within the enterprise market — but presents several technical challenges and trade-offs.
The Importance of Collaboration
These challenges demonstrate the crucial role that all stakeholders need to play by collaborating and evaluating the long-term needs of the market to shape future specifications.
Standardization on an international level is realized by this cooperation between multiple competing businesses as part of organizations like NFC Forum, and this will be fundamental to the ongoing development of the NFC Wireless Charging Specification.
If you’d like to learn more about NFC Wireless Charging for personal devices, you can watch the recording of our webinar on this topic. The session gave insights from a panel of experts from Huawei, Infineon, NuCurrent, NXP, Panthronics, STMicroelectronics, Zebra Technologies and Wired & Wireless Technologies Ltd (WAWT).