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By Kyle Daly
Charging cables could be headed the way of dial-up modems.
A company promising truly wireless charging for cell phones, tablets, and other connected devices aims to start selling its technology in 2018 after getting the OK from regulators this week.
Silicon Valley-based Energous Corp. cleared a major hurdle by obtaining certification from the Federal Communications Commission Dec. 26 for its WattUp transmitter, designed to deliver power to compatible devices over radio waves. The clearance represents the first time the FCC has ever approved a device promising wireless charging at a distance, agency chief Ajit Pai said on Twitter.
The FCC certification followed months of testing to ensure that the WattUp signals don’t have any adverse effects on users’ health or safety, and that the devices meet other FCC standards for consumer technology. The technology, if it operates as promised, could eliminate one of the most cumbersome tasks of mobile device ownership and contribute to the growing technology niche devoted to eliminating wires.
“The process is the same for any device, of any amount of power,” Energous CEO Stephen Rizzone said of the FCC certification in a Dec. 27 interview. “That’s why this is such a milestone event for us.”
The FCC found the device to fall under its limits for human exposure to radio waves, Rizzone said.
Energous shares more than doubled in value following the certification. They closed Dec. 27 at $23.70 per share, a day after closing at $8.84 a share.
WattUp, which is about the size of a shoebox, works as a hub and sends power to multiple devices within three feet. Other wireless chargers already on the market rely on a charging station or pad.
Energous hopes to start selling to consumers by late 2018, Rizzone said. The company is also developing other models that can send power further away, up to 15 feet, Rizzone said. The FCC certification “establishes a clear path,” he said, for approval of future devices with a greater charging range.
The first WattUp-compatible devices will likely be hearing aids and other relatively simple wearable devices, Rizzone told Bloomberg Law. Smartphones and tablets could follow as soon as 2019, he said.
Energous has long spoken of a major strategic partner that will offer compatible devices but has not named the partner. Analysts have speculated that Apple Inc. is the likely partner, particularly after Energous in 2014 named Apple’s compliance testing as one of the industry certifications it needed to clear.
Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner told Bloomberg Law that he believes Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. or LG Electronics Inc. could be likelier candidates, as the Korean manufacturers are typically quick to jump on new technology.
Energous also plans to make the transmitter more sophisticated over time, including installing it directly into WiFi routers by 2020, Rizzone said. The device could be built into other devices such as computer monitors even sooner, he said.
Energous has not always hit such targets. The company, for instance, had hoped to have its first set of chargers—transmitters that must be in physical contact with devices they charge—out to consumers by the end of this year. Energous pushed the estimated market introduction date to the first quarter of 2018, Rizzone said.
Still, Energous looks likely be the first company to bring wireless charging to market in light of the FCC certification, Roth Capital Partners analyst William Gibson told Bloomberg Law.
Would-be competitors are still at the prototype stage, Gibson said. Other companies looking to deliver wireless power to consumers include: uBeam in Los Angeles; Ossia in Redmond, Wash., which tried unsuccessfully to challenge Energous patents in 2016; Israeli startup Humavox; and Powercast Co., based in Pittsburgh.
Wireless charging technology could be a hit among consumers, Gibson predicted. “Once you get spoiled by having things constantly charged, you’re not going to want to go back,” he said.
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