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Belkin may not release an over-the-air charging device after all

It looks like we won’t see true wireless charging in homes as soon as we thought.

The timeline for over-the-air charging in the home just got murkier. On Wednesday, a press release from Israel-based wireless charging company Wi-Charge detailed plans for a partnership with Belkin to launch a consumer product with Wi-Charge’s technology this year. Belkin is now tempering those expectations.

On Wednesday, TechCrunch interviewed Wi-Charge co-founder and Chief Business Officer Ori Mor. The TechCrunch reporter wrote that Wi-Charge “told me it has just inked a mysterious deal with Belkin, and we can expect the first wireless power device to show up from the accessories manufacturer later this year.” Mor told the publication that Belkin is being “super aggressive on the timeline.”

Mor stoked hopes of domestic cable- and pad-free wireless charging by saying that the Belkin product in the works is “a center-stage consumer product” and that Belkin had chosen “a perfect application.” Neither Mor nor Wi-Charge’s announcement specified the Belkin product, but the Wi-Charge executive highlighted Belkin’s businesses in aftermarket charging accessories, smart home products, and powerline offerings.

However, a statement Thursday from Belkin spokesperson Jen Wei suggested that Belkin is further away from a Wi-Charge-based product release.

“Currently, our agreement with Wi-Charge only commits us to R&D on some product concepts, so it’s too early to comment on the timing of viable consumer products,” Wei said in an emailed statement to Ars Technica. “The Belkin method is to thoroughly investigate technology viability and perform deep user testing before committing to a product concept. Here at Belkin, we only launch products when we confirm technical feasibility backed by deep consumer insights.”

Wei said that Belkin is still “fully committed to the wired-to-wireless transition and believe[s] in a future of cable-free charging.”

Wi-Charge’s technology uses a small, mounted transmitter plugged into an AC or DC outlet to “convert electricity into safe infrared beams,” Wi-Charge’s website says. The company says the transmitter sends up to 1 W of power to devices holding a Wi-Charge receiver and within a 40-foot range and line of sight. The receivers then turn that light into power.

The Verge, which broke the news that Belkin does not have concrete plans to release an over-the-air charging product, quoted Wi-Charge spokesperson Merrill Freund as saying, “We are not commenting about Belkin beyond what is in the release.” According to The Verge, Freund said Wi-Charge will release two over-the-air charging products “on our own” but didn’t provide more details.

When asked about The Verge’s report, including the two aforementioned products, Wi-Charge’s rep said, “We will be providing specifics on the Wi-Charge products at a later date.”

Lowered expectations

Still, that’s a blow to hopes for an over-the-air charging solution showing up this year.

Companies like Wi-Charge, Ossia, and Energous have been demoing consumer products with true wireless charging for years. But we’ve yet to see a product available for purchase.

One of the most promising examples I’ve seen in person was a Spigen-brand phone case with Ossia’s radio wave-based over-the-air charging technology, which allowed a phone to be charged inside the case. In 2019, the company even showed the device receiving power while in a pocket or in a drawer. But the case still isn’t available for purchase.

“Ossia is still working with Spigen and several other manufacturers on the phone case,” an Ossia representative told Ars Technica. “As the technology requires a transmitter and receiver, getting transmitters into the home will open up a lot of opportunities for phone sleeves, consumer devices, [and] IoT Home Kits (sensors, doorbells, cameras, etc.).”

In addition to struggles with making over-the-air charging feasible for homes (Ossia worked to create a smaller transmitter, for example), there are regulatory obstacles in the US. Those include Federal Communications Commission approval for radio wave-based technology and US Food and Drug Association approval for Wi-Charge’s infrared tech.

Although Belkin’s statements mean we might not see true over-the-air charging products in 2022, there’s hope for early 2023. That’s when Ossia expects its partner, the French company Archos, to release true wireless charging products for the home. According to a spokesperson, the first products will be “an indoor wireless camera, [an] air quality and temperature station, [a] smart tracker, and [a] smart health watch.”

But considering Archos originally expected the products to come out in 2022, it may be best to keep your expectations low.

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