Broadcom Looks to Make Wireless Smartphone Charging Easier

The company's new BCM59350 power charging device lets consumers use any charging standard for their devices.

smartphone charging

Broadcom is unveiling a power management unit that will enable smartphone users to wirelessly charge their devices without having to worry about what wireless specification their devices support.

Broadcom's new BCM59350 wireless charging power management unit (PMU), announced May 28, supports the standards from the three industry organizations that offer competing specs for wirelessly charging electronic devices—the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and Wireless Power Consortium (WPC). The new PMU offers automatic selection between the specs from the vendor consortiums and enables device OEMs to build multi-standards wireless power receivers, which will reduce confusion among users, according to Broadcom officials.

The PMU leverages the Rezence standard, which uses near-field magnetic resonance technology that proponents have said will enable the simultaneous charging of multiple devices, without those devices having to be docked. Rezence has been embraced by two of the three standards groups, the A4WP and PMA. The standard essentially allows users to put multiple devices onto a single charging surface without having to position or align them in any particular way.

The BCM59350 currently is sampling with select customers. There was no word on when the product will be generally available to OEMs.

The WPC—which was formed in 2008 and is four years older than the other two groups—has created the Qi standard that proponents said is used in more than 400 products. Qi charging stations are in a wide range of places worldwide, from office and hotels to airports and coffee shops, they've said.

The PMU, which leverages Bluetooth wireless technology as the communication channel between the smartphone and charging surface, can be used with Broadcom's new family of Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED) Smart systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) and software for the charging pad to give OEMs a complete platform on which to build their charging solutions.

The vendor introduced its WICED platform late last year in response to the burgeoning Internet of things.

"Broadcom delivers the complete package—interoperable wireless charging, leading mobile connectivity and WICED Smart technology for charging pads—simplifying the development process and enabling a fully interoperable ecosystem to our customers," Reinier van der Lee, product director of mobile platforms at Broadcom, said in a statement.

Wireless charging hasn't historically been that simple, due in part to the existence of three industry consortiums. However, that could be easing. In early February, the A4WP and the PMA agreed to work together to enable interoperability between their respective standards. According to the agreement, the PMA will adopt Rezence as its magnetic resonance charging spec for transmitters and receivers in both single- and multi-mode configurations, and the A4WP will support the PMA's inductive spec as an option for multi-mode inductive, magnetic resonance implementations. In addition, the two groups will collaborate on network services management APIs.

However, while negotiating the wireless charging space hasn't been easy, demand for the capability is growing, according to analysts at IHS. The market research firm is forecasting that the number of shipments of devices that can charge wirelessly will grow from 50 million this year to 900 million in 2018, and that the combined market for wireless power receivers and transmitters will hit $8.5 billion by 2018.

The industry groups are doing their part to expand the field. For example, the A4WP group in February unveiled an initiative aimed at wirelessly charging products that range from 20 to 50 watts, such as laptops, Ultrabooks and mid-powered appliances.