The Tangled Web of Wireless Charging—Mobile World Congress

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BARCELONA—Samsung Electronics Co. helped push smartphone wireless charging for mobile devices further into the mainstream at this year’s Mobile World Congress — with an unlikely assist from the world’s largest furniture maker.

On Sunday, the South Korean technology giant said that its flagship Galaxy S6 smartphone will support the two main competing wireless charging standards — and, in an unusual collaboration, added that it would be compatible with a new range of wireless charging furniture from Sweden’s Ikea International A/S.

For years, smartphone battery life, or the lack of it, has been a constant gripe for consumers. All those tangle-up charging wires are a nuisance too.

One potential technological advance that solves the latter gripe: wireless charging. But here there is another tangle: three competing technical standards whose rivalry is retarding wider adoption of the technology.

Each of them comes with its own technology, selling points and big-name backers.

In January, two of the groups — the San Diego-based Alliance for Wireless Power and the New York-based Power Matters Alliance — said they would join forces in a deal expected to close later this year.

“This will lead to a common standard,” said Thorsten Heins, the former BlackBerry Ltd.BBRY +0.30% chief executive who now heads Powermat, a key member of the Power Matters Alliance.

While the two groups hinted at the time of the merger that they would reach out to the third group, called the Wireless Power Consortium, Mr. Heins said there were no “active talks” to unify the three standards.

A spokesman for the Alliance for Wireless Power said in an e-mailed statement that “multiple technologies should arise” in a “competitive, free, global, innovation-driven and open market.”

Part of the deadlock over wireless charging standards is competing business models.

Unlike the two others, the Power Matters Alliance technology could collect some user data, since each charger is identifiable, and users could be required to register if they want to use the facility.

Technology is also a stumbling block. The Alliance for Wireless Power’s technology uses a higher frequency than its counterparts when conducting the wireless charging process.

In the meantime, Samsung’s move is helping to speed along peace in the fragmented field.

Consumers doesn’t care much about competing standards — they just want to get their phones charged, said Rory O’Neill, Samsung’s marketing director for the company’s European telecommunications operations.

In previous iterations of its flagship Galaxy S smartphones, the company sold a separate back cover panel that would allow for wireless charging with any wireless charging pads compatible with the Wireless Power Consortium’s standard. This time around, no separately-sold parts are needed — because the necessary technology is already built into the Galaxy S6.

To be sure, Samsung isn’t the only smartphone manufacturer. But it’s the biggest, and its move to work with two players could add momentum to the budding peace between the rival standards.

Ikea, meanwhile, has chosen to build wireless charging facilities in its furniture using the Wireless Power Consortium’s standard, branded Qi (pronounced “chee”).

“Qi has become the standard for wireless charging,” said Björn Block, an Ikea manager.

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