Everything you need to know about wireless charging

Imagine if your phone never ran out of battery because just putting it down on the table in a coffee shop recharged it. Or what if it just pulled electricity out of the air?

That’s the future that wireless charging promises. We put the O2 Gurus on the case to find out what it is and what it means for your smartphone.

How does wireless charging work?

Currently, the most popular form of wireless phone charging uses magnets: electromagnets, to be exact. Both your phone and the wireless charging station have a coil in them and – as you may remember from GCSE physics – when you run an electric current through a coiled wire, it creates a magnetic field.

When you plug the charging station in to a power source, its coil creates a magnetic field. If your phone is close enough to this field, it transfers the power to the coil in your phone, which is connected to the battery. And that’s how current moves from your wall to your battery without using a wire.

But… you do still need some wires?

Well, yes. Technically, wireless charging is yet to go completely wire-free as you’ll still need a wire to connect the charging station to your electricity supply. But you don’t have to plug your phone in to a socket or fiddle about getting the USB connector in the right way up.

But I can “wirelessly” charge my phone and tablet now?

Yes! Albeit in a fairly basic form. Some handsets, like the Nokia Lumia 930, have wireless charging capabilities built-in and come with a charging mat in the box. But if you’re rocking an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S5 then you’ll have to buy a special phone case and charging mat set separately.

nokia

Why isn’t it just built into all phones?

Good question: there are a few reasons, but the main one is because the big tech makers can’t decide what type of wireless charging standard to use.

There are three ways to do wireless charging, and LG, Sony and Samsung have subscribed to them all. While all three are in use, we’ll end up with phones that are only compatible with certain types of wireless charging terminals. Just as with VHS versus Betamax and Blu-ray versus HD DVD, someone will have to admit defeat.

Will wireless charging ever go completely wire-free?

We hope so – aside from wireless phone chargers, there are several companies currently working on wireless electricity. The dream is that you’d not only be able to recharge your phone but also power your TV, lights and all electrical appliances without the need for wires or plugs. Eventually, wireless electricity could become as common as Wi-Fi is now.

Hmm, that sounds good but it’s a way off. What about some middle ground?

Alright, alright: take a look at UBeam, which converts electricity into sound and uses ultrasound to transmit it through the air to your devices. It means your phone doesn’t need to be on a physical pad – instead, you’d attach a receiver to your handset leaving you free to wander around the room and even make a call as it charges. UBeam is only at the prototype stage at the moment, but its creators say it should be on the shelves within two years – and hope that its receivers will eventually be built straight into your phone.

Do you have a wireless charger? Do you think it’s the future? Let us know in the comments below or by replying to us on Twitter @O2.

You can also read more from the O2 Gurus, find us on O2 Guru TV or visit an O2 Guru in store.