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.