Managing a heavily-used mobile device’s battery life is no small feat, and it’s one that users navigate daily. Public charging stations have cropped up in airports, coffee shops and on trade show floors to help people combat battery drain, and it’s not unusual for users to carry portable power packs which are bigger than the devices that they’re charging. Mobile device battery struggles have even been the subject of a Chromebook commercial, in which users scramble to plug their tablets and laptops in as they groan, “I’m dying.”
5G will exacerbate the issue even more, according to Yuval Boger, chief marketing officer at wireless charging company Wi-Charge.
“The issue is that existing battery solutions are just insufficient,” Boger said. “It gets worse when we go to 5G.”
Wi-Charge has a vision of power that comes to the device automatically and wirelessly from a source 10 to 15 feet away, via infrared light converted into energy that a device can use internally. That means no need for plugging in or even setting a device on a charging pad, and it opens up the possibility of more feature-rich internet of things devices and new device designs that aren’t limited by battery size, Boger said.
The company recently commissioned a survey of smartphone users, carried out by Zobgy Analytics, in which more than 1/3 of users reported that their smartphone runs out of battery multiple times per week, even though they charge their devices overnight.
“Forty percent of consumers charge their mobile devices multiple times per day or leave them plugged in – highlighting the fact that devices are not holding a charge as advertised,” according to the research.
Boger pointed out that for some flagship 5G devices, the official battery specs indicate that users should expect a shorter battery life than the 4G version of the same device. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10+ 5G, for example, indicates in its specs that there is a fairly drastic reduction in battery life between the 4G and 5G versions: 27.51 hours of usage time for the 5G device and 40.86 hours for the 4G version. The standby times, meanwhile are much closer: 15.4 days for the Note 10+ and 14.25 days for the Note 10+ 5G. Both devices have a 4,300 mAh battery.
(Just because a device supports 5G doesn’t necessarily mean it has a shorter battery life, however, even within one OEM’s product line. Samsung up-sized the battery in its Galaxy S10 5G to 4,000 mAh to achieve a projection of up to 44 hours of usage and 15.5 days of standby time, compared to a 3,400 mAh battery in the Galaxy S10 model which doesn’t support 5G, with a 35.83 hours of use and 13 days of standby.)
But, according to Boger, “5G opens up new opportunities, in live streaming and low latency — people are going to want to do more” — that means more battery drain. He also pointed out that data use, especially power-hungry mobile video consumption, continues to rise, even as phones themselves add more capabilities such as facial recognition or fingerprint sensors.
“They don’t come for free, not in terms of money and not in terms of energy consumption,” he added. And 5G itself, at least in this stage of its development, is a power hungry technology.
“The modulation scheme for 5G is great for many reasons. One reason that it’s not, is power consumption,” said Boger.
A recent IEEE Spectrum article said that the next release of 3GPP’s 5G New Radio standard may address power concerns specifically, both in devices and base stations.
In an IoT context, battery life is even more crucial, both in the home and in a commercial context. Public bathrooms, Boger said, are actually a “hub of innovation for IoT devices” such as battery-powered, sensor-activated faucets and toilets and automatic soap dispensers. Manufacturers of such devices have been a lot of optimizing their battery life, he added, “but now they want them to be all IoT: soap dispensers that report every few minutes how much soap it has dispensed, for just-in-time refills. The money is not in the dispenser, but in the refills, so they want to make sure the dispenser reports that information. All of a sudden, they need more power to deliver the information [the company]is looking for.”
In the home, Wi-Charge’s survey also found that about half of consumers charge 3-6 devices each week on average, with one in 10 charging more than six devices per week — which the company only expects to grow. Specifically in smart home devices, around 20% of consumers reported that they are changing out or charging smart home devices weekly. Meanwhile, almost 70% of consumers said that they don’t own wireless charging pads, and of those who did, only 42% used the pad more frequently than a regular charging cable.
Wi-Charge is initially seeking to support devices that can move, but are generally used in one location — such as those smart home IoT devices or a home security system. That’s because for devices that stay in the home environment, Boger said, it doesn’t matter to users if any other location has the ability to charge the device — unlike mobile phones, for instance, where it’s important to consumers that they be able to charge a device in other locations than their home.
“That requires more cooperation and wider-scale deployments,” he said.
The company’s wireless chargers can charge a phone from 10 to 15 feet away safely and efficiently, with no contact from the device. The technology does not interfere with remote controls or other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee or cellular, he added. The system can be placed on a ceiling or floor, plugged in and then it scans the room for receivers, which are about the size of a fingernail, Boger said. It has a solar voltaic cell which converts the light energy of the infrared into power. The company also has plug-in USB connectors that allow devices which do not have the receivers to still be powered by Wi-Charge systems, and it can even be used to power wireless charging pads so that they don’t need a wired connection, he said. One question the company is frequently asked is how much power it can deliver. Boger says that Wi-Charge has demonstrated delivery of 2.5 watts over a distance of about 16 feet. It’s not high-speed charging, he adds, but it’s still enough to make a noticeable impact on battery life.
Power is often a limiting factor on device functionality, he said, and wireless charging can enable more power — and therefore, more functionality. Device manufacturers work hard to reduce their products’ need for energy consumption, he added, but they typically do it by reducing functionality or awake time — for instance, a smart keypad that only allows an update every few hours. For most users that may be fine. But perhaps, not for an AirBNB property where if a guest runs into trouble with a code, a lock may need to be updated immediately. Additional features such as two-way audio might be desirable so that the guest could speak to the property owner if there is an issue, or a motion-detection camera so that the owner or manager knows when people have entered or left the property, Boger added.
“Those things don’t exist, not because customers don’t want them, it’s because they are a significant drain on battery life,” he said.
And that soap dispenser may be just fine reporting every few hours or once a day — but what if it is located in a Big Ten college football stadium? Reporting every hour may not be enough to capture the most relevant data when it’s needed, particularly on game days, Boger said.
In addition, he said, there are safety aspects to the battery conundrum (no company wants to have the next exploding smartphone battery or device banned from airplanes due to battery issues). Design and aesthetics plays a role as well. A device such as a wireless home security camera is currently designed with a limited back-up battery in case of power outage — if the battery could be eliminated, the device could be lighter and more elegantly designed, Boger said. Wi-Charge’s survey also indicated that consumers say they’re willing to pay a premium for devices that could charge without human intervention.
“Imagine instead if your phone magically charged itself. You come home, and it charges while you watch TV. It just charges everywhere, and you no longer have to be part of managing the battery. Just like email — once you had to dial into a server to read it, now it just arrives at your phone,” Boger said.
The company has showcased Wi-Charge at a number of trade shows, from last year’s Mobile World Congress Americas to CES 2019. Watch one of their demos below:
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