Your Next Phone May Be Able to Charge Over the Air

Wireless charging is old hat. Just about every high-end phone (and even some mid-range models) can juice up on some inductive platform or other. Charging-at-a-distance, on the other hand, is the future: the technology converts wireless signals into electricity to charge phones, tablets and other small gadgets.

Credit: Energous

(Image credit: Energous)

Energous is the latest charging-at-a-distance company to throw its hat in the ring, but it has a significant leg up over its competitors: It’s just become the first-ever technology of its kind to get FCC approval.

Energous released a statement that explained its accomplishment. The Federal Communications Commission can certify charging-at-a-distance technology, since it technically takes advantage of radio frequencies to transmit a signal.

MORE: Wireless Charging FAQ

“As the first FCC certification for power-at-a-distance wireless charging under Part 18 of the FCC’s rules, this development represents a new era of wireless charging, and opens up a tremendous opportunity for the electronics industry,” Energous announced.

Part 18 of the FCC rules (which, incidentally, work wonders if you’re having a bout of insomnia) deal with “Industrial, Scientific and Medical Equipment.” Before selling new technology in the United States that takes advantage of radio frequencies, companies must seek FCC approval and abide by rules concerning operating procedure, interference and restricted radio bands.

It’s all rather jargon-y and not terribly interesting to the average consumer, but the bottom line is this: the company probably did not go through all the trouble of getting FCC approval if it doesn’t intend to bring the product to market within a reasonable interval. And the FCC probably wouldn’t grant approval if Energous's wireless charging didn’t at least kind of work. Even so, FCC approval is not an endorsement of the product or its underlying technology.

As far as what Energous claims to do, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. The company says it has developed a field transmitter called WattUp, which beams a signal via radio frequency to any device with a WattUp receiver attached. WattUp is platform-agnostic, meaning you could theoretically buy a charger for any phone, regardless of who makes the device. The technology can theoretically charge devices quickly via wireless contact charging (like what we have today), or more slowly just by being in the general vicinity of the WattUp transmitter. Right now, Energous says its transmitter works at distances of up to 3 feet.

While phones would seem like an obvious target for charging-at-a-distance technology, a number of devices could potentially benefit from such a feature, including tablets, smartwatches, wireless mice and keyboards and just about anything that needs a charge to stay powered up. WattUp works with multiple devices at once, Energous says.

Energous aims to demonstrate its power-at-a-distance technology at CES 2018 next month, so Tom’s Guide will get a chance to see firsthand how it works. Even if the technology works as promised, there’s no indication of how much it might cost — or if smartphone producers will be willing to start incorporating it into their handsets. Still, if the FCC thinks there’s something to it, maybe this is a charging technology worth keeping an eye on in 2018.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi. 

  • longjohn119
    Sheesh Marshall if you don't know anything more about basic physics you really shouldn't be commenting on this

    FCC approval only means one thing really, it won't interfere with other RF devices and nothing more ..... That means it's going to be low power and thus won't be able to charde anything with any kind of reasonable efficiency ..... In fact this will make the incandescent light bulb look like the model of efficiency and they've been all but banned

    The ON:Y thing this device will do is create excess CO2 from all the WASTED electricity and all because people are too damned LAZY to plug a cord into their device to charge it ...... If the losses from this are over 2 then it should be banned and most likely the losses will be on the order of 10 or greater (Likely much greater)

    Nothing trumps the Laws of Physics ......
  • presch
    I agree with longjohn, you know the inverse square law and all that stuff.
    Having said that the only benefit that this system would have is that it would eliminate the wear and tear on the micro USB connectors used on phone & tablets. I have lost one phone and had to have a tablet repaired because the micro USB connectors used for charging failed.
    Micro USB connectors were never designed for constant plugging an unplugging that occurs when phones/tablets are charged on a daily basis.
  • jredmartins
    20526816 said:
    Energous has just become the first-ever power-at-a-distance technology to get FCC approval, which could bode well for the future of its wireless charging technology.

    Your Next Phone May Be Able to Charge Over the Air : Read more

    Interesting article - but this is not a new concept!

    Nikoli Tesla would be saying "I told YOU SO". He actually was the first to conceive and research this technology to transmit energy through the air by wireless transmissions.

    Another interesting article is:

    A quote of this article says:
    “As soon as completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere,” Tesla said at the time. “He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant. In the same manner any picture, character, drawing or print can be transferred from one to another place. Millions of such instruments can be operated from but one plant of this kind.”
    If Tesla had not been cheated out of his finances and inventions and went broke and ocd we probably would have had much of our current technology much sooner. Imagine what our technology would look like today if Tesla had been able to finish what he had started. He's been dead around 74 years now but many of his dreams and ideals are now a reality .

  • draw8962
    Why not it's like we already microwave roast fry our brains & other body parts occasionally with our high powered devices. Which explains the rise in benign tumors across the world.
  • braveblackguy
    This is the future, especially with the electric car markets being bullish moving towards 2018