IDT charges ahead with Intel on wireless power

NEW YORK—Integrated Device Technology Inc.’s deal to develop wireless charging ICs for Intel’s reference designs represents a coup for the mixed-signal company.

But whether the Intel and IDT (San Jose, Calif.) partnership can play a major role in proliferating wireless power technology is unclear. Their shared success depends on how quickly and widespread Intel’s wireless charging technology is adopted in Ultrabooks, all-in-one PCs, smartphones and standalone chargers.

And it isn’t the only wireless power standard out there. There are several others currently being developed that would enable the wireless transfer of power to charge electronic devices, including the Wireless Power Consortium’s “Qi” and the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) led by Samsung and Qualcomm. And in one of its past relationships, things didn’t go the way IDT had planned.

“It’s still a show-me story,” said Robert Burleson, an analyst with investment bank Canaccord Genuity based in San Francisco. IDT had put its support behind DisplayPort in 2007 after Intel released its roadmap for the digital interface standard. OEMs didn’t roll-out DisplayPort-based products as quickly as IDT had anticipated, and its products were commoditized by the time OEMs started to go to market with them.

“The main test for IDT has to do with their allocation of R&D dollars,” Burleson said.  “Analog is a fragmented marketplace, and there’s a lot of discretion in terms of how you spend your R&D and which products you go after. In the past there have been some failures, like DisplayPort, and so it’s a test of management in terms of successfully spending on R&D for products that yield revenue and good returns.”

IDT, however, works with all of the standards bodies, according to Arman Naghavi, IDT’s vice president and general manager of the Analog and Power Division. Its strategy is to build SoCs that can easily be tweaked to meet the needs of its OEM customers, regardless of the wireless charging standard their products will support.

“It appears IDT has been most aggressive in responding to the wireless charging opportunity,” said Steve Ohr, analog and power semiconductors analyst at Gartner Inc.

IDT introduced its first wireless charging products— an integrated IDTP9030 transmitter and multi-mode IDTP9020 receiver— earlier this year based on the Qi standard supporting magnetic induction. IDT’s development of an integrated transmitter and receiver chip set for Intel’s wireless approach is based on resonance technology. The solution will enable, for instance, smartphones to wirelessly charge by placing it next to a PC equipped with the appropriate software. Intel’s wireless technology supports Windows 7 and 8, according to Naghavi.

Magnetic induction charging technology employs one coil inside a map and one inside the receiver. Once the transmitter is placed on top, it would transfer the energy from the transmitter to the receiver. The difference between magnetic resonance and magnetic induction technology is there isn’t a need for a map. As long as the device is close to coil, it will transfer the power, Naghavi explained.

IDT’s first wireless charging product “helped us prove our competency in technology to Intel and others that we have a differentiated solution, and we are able to integrate these components. Our closest competitor has a multichip solution,” Naghavi said.

Added Ohr: “IDT should be congratulated for being recognized by Intel on this.” However, analysts couldn’t quantify the value of the design win since the wireless charging market is still in its infancy. Also, product revenues are likely to take five years to aggregate, according to analysts.

Intel didn’t disclose when it expects to roll out the reference designs. Meanwhile, IDT expects samples of a resonance receiver IC to be ready by the end of the year, and the transmitter IC is expected to sample in the first half of 2013.

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