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Energous and FCC Approval for Mid Range Device - What Does It Mean?

Six months ago wireless power company Energous claimed they'd have FCC approval for their at-distance charging, and I was highly skepti...

Monday, April 9, 2018

Energous FCC Approval Shows Weakness of WattUp Technology

More Energous news today with the announcement of another FCC approval, this time the "unlimited power" Part 18 approval for their Near-Field, contact only, system. You may remember this from May last year when it was approved under Part 18 at 5.8 GHz for 1 Watt transmitted output, but this time approved at 900 MHz at a staggering new 1 Watt transmitted output. Accounting for conversion efficiencies, that might be enough to charge your phone in 10 to 20 hours! Apparently this is momentous news and so WATT shares leapt 25% in after hours trading, because... well for no reason other than this is a volatile stock that trades on hope and greed, not an actual product or profits.

Why was this approval needed? Well, Energous had been advertising the WattUp family, that what charges with the Near-Field device will also work with their upcoming Mid- and Far-Field systems. Unfortunately, they learned in summer 2017 that the FCC would not allow the Mid-Field system to pass Part 18 at 5.8 GHz, and so they scrambled to change it and go with ~900 MHz, the only other frequency band realistically open to them. It got them the approval, for a pitiful amount of power (30 to 100 mW) at a small distance (0.5 to 0.9 meters) and a safety cutoff below 0.5 meters, but broke the promised compatibility with the contact version - the frequencies were just different. 

Now, this new approval allows them to market the compatibility, and it will be quite a campaign, I can just imagine it: 

"Charge your phone on a pad in around a day, and then charge at a distance in ten times as long! (Warning, charging only valid at 0.5 to 0.9 meters, safety cutoff closer than 0.5 meters)".

If you want to look at the data for yourself, look here, then search for Energous under the Applicant Name, and look up the product 2ADNG-NF230 at 918 MHz. You can see that transmitted power is limited to 29 dBm (basically, just under 1 Watt), and they likely have some antenna gain to pretend it's closer to 3 Watts. While there are two antenna to try and ensure the device charges at any angle, only one is active at any time.

Like the Mid-Field system approved at Christmas, the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR, a safety limit) seems to be what stops them, and is around 0.864 W/kg. While the limit is 1.6 W/kg, with safety margins it is hard to go much higher. Basically, this is as much power as they are ever going to put out. Further, unlike the Mid-Field, the CEO cannot pretend that the charge rate can be increased by altering the safety zone - there is none. This is as good as it gets. (Yes, Unlimited Power Part 18 does mean "around 1 Watt max").

For comparison, the Qi standard is around 5 Watts, with a high power version at 15 Watts - Qi is the resonant inductive method you're most likely to have seen, and that Apple has essentially chosen for AirPower. USB cables charge at anywhere from around 5 Watts to 100 Watts (though practically most today are around 10 Watts).

So at less than 1 Watt it's easy to see why Myant dropped Energous from their product. It would likely be ~10x slower than the cheaper, simpler cable they look to be providing instead. As a partner of Energous, Myant would have known this was coming, but still dropped it from the lineup. If "waiting for compatibility with long range charging" was the excuse, then that's gone, as both Near and Mid versions are at ~900 MHz now. Myant could put in the 900 MHz contact charging into their product now, and switch to the at-distance chargers later. If a key partner isn't taking advantage of this feature, IMO that's a major warning flag that something is rotten in the WattUp portfolio.

As with the Mid-Field FCC approval documents, this data shows how impractical the WattUp charging technology is, and how it can't be scaled up from here. This won't stop the Energous fans from claiming another victory, that the stock price boost is a sign of impending greatness, however it's just another well timed news dump of practical insignificance that will goose the stock for a few days. Just one of the occasional bounces you can expect to see on the way down and enabling some to make a profit from the volatility, not the value. I continue to admire Energous for their ability to boost the stock price and keep the game going longer. I wonder when we'll be seeing the next set of insider stock sales...

So is this overnight addition of $100 million to the market cap indicative of great things to come? I'll leave you with this, another reminder of what the Energous CEO said almost 2.5 years ago in the Q3 2015 earnings call:

"Here is a brief summary of the results of the amount of actual power delivered to a device at varying distances with a single WattUp transmitter. Power received at zero to five feet measured 5.55 watts compared to our targeted performance of 4 watts. Power received at five to 10 feet measured 3.74 watts compared to our targeted performance of 2 watts and power received at 10 to 15 feet measured 1.06 watts compared to our targeted performance of 1 watt."

They can barely do 1 Watt when in contact in Q2 2018. Still believing they'll deliver an actual product?

(My regular reminder, I have no financial position in Energous, long or short, or any other wireless power company)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Myant Responds to Questions Over Dropping Energous

Yesterday I wrote a post indicating that Myant, a "hi-tech clothing company", looked to have dropped Energous wireless charging from their upcoming Fitbit-style-underwear product. Energous made a pretty big deal about the announcement at the end of last year and at CES this January, so it was an equally big deal to see that disappear. Today on Twitter, Alexandros Roussos responded with a comment straight from Myant on this:

First of all, thanks to Alexandros for getting this information straight from the company, there's a treasure trove of information just in those few lines. I have not confirmed this myself, and in the absence of an official statement from Myant, I'm going to take this statement as accurate, should that change or Myant clarify, I'll update accordingly.

Efficiency - Valid Excuse or Covering for Poor Performance?
First thing to note is a confirmation they've dropped the contact wireless charging. That's an "ouch" for Energous. Second is that the reason given is "charging efficiency" - which is a bizarre reason to give. Battery life is around 6 days, and likely around 0.5 Wh capacity, which means around 30 Wh per year, or ~0.4 cents per year of electricity at the average price of 12c/kWh at 100% efficiency. That means 4 cents per year at 10% efficiency, and 40 cents per year at 1% efficiency, for a product that's a few hundred dollars. This is not a reasonable excuse based on efficiency, so maybe they mean charge rate?

How long is someone prepared to wait for charging such a device? Well a Fitbit is around an hour, give or take, so it shouldn't be much more than that every 6 days. Energous claimed around 5 Watts or more charging for the contact system, which would easily charge a device like this in less than an hour. Does WattUp charge at lower rates than this for smaller devices? If someone had to wait 10+ hours for the charging, that would be a good reason to have to have 2 devices (Interestingly in their old package Myant included two trackers, while in the current package it looks like they sell only one. "Use two modules interchangeably for the full 24/7 experience" they say.) A slow charge rate would definitely make it questionable as a consumer product, and I think this is more likely what they mean by "charging efficiency".

It seems to me with this statement that Myant have confirmed that the Energous mini WattUp is not a viable solution for mobile electronics - the core market it's touted as being designed for. That's pretty damning for any product.

Incompatibility - Despite Energous PR Claims Otherwise
One of the very interesting things is that Myant claim that they want to "bring a product compatible with distant charging" which is ridiculous as that was touted as an an inbuilt major feature with the mini WattUp - use for contact charging now, then move to the at-distance charging with the same device in future. In-built future proofing! To quote from Energous' own press release:

"All WattUp-enabled products will support seamless transitioning from charging via Miniature WattUp transmitters, to future stationary in-room transmitters that will offer wire-free charging with mobility at a distance. The result will be a complete wireless charging eco-system."

Has that compatibility been broken? I do wonder if the recent change to 913 MHz for the mid-field system killed any hope of compatibility. (Yes, I know, I'm saying that a unavailable product is now incompatible with another product I'm saying will never be released, I get how ridiculous this is).

Have Myant inadvertently confirmed that the "WattUp eco-system compatibility" does not exist?

At Distance Charging Convenience
The last statement of the charging convenience of "at distance" is ridiculous. If the contact method is inefficient, by definition the at-distance method will be far worse - that's both basic physics and common sense. You won't lose "some" efficiency, you'll lose a lotEnergous' own numbers for their mid field system shows charge rates between 30 mW and around 100mW, so between 5 and 16 hours to charge, while standing in a small region around 50 centimeters on each side, always facing the transmitter. Yes, that's practical...

Maybe it's for just throwing on the nightstand and charging at-distance that way while you sleep - in that case it's no more convenient than contact charging, but a lot more inefficient!

Confirmation of Impracticality?
The response from Myant is welcome, to me it confirms that the WattUp has been dropped from the "flagship" Energous named customer, there is no replacement, that the contact based WattUp system is likely too inefficient (slow?) for most consumer electronics, and that the promoted inter-system compatibility does not exist. A few lines from Myant, and it says a lot to me about Energous' product overall.

A few minutes after posting, Alexandros made the following statement on Twitter, that there was some paraphrasing in his response. You should take that into account when reading this post, however I think the main points of the post still stand.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Has Myant Dropped Energous Wireless Charging?

Over the last two years I've covered Energous in some depth, pointing out what I believe are excessive claims as to performance and capabilities, based on things like "laws of physics" and "FCC regulations". The company has often said that products are merely 18 months away, and have done for at least 4 years, leading to many claiming that their technology would never see use in a real device. To silence critics, last November Energous announced their first product with "WattUp" charging technology - clothing from Myant. In the press release, Energous' CEO said:

"Myant is a market leader in delivering a textile computing platform and signature line of smart apparel and we are excited that our WattUp technology has been chosen to power their sensors. The ability of the WattUp technology to charge its receivers in a variety of different ways - depending on the specific product, its use case or simply user preference - is just one of several key differentiators we have secured within the wireless charging industry. By providing this technology to Myant, Energous is growing its ecosystem of WattUp-enabled products and helping usher in a new era of smart apparel."

(Now if you're wondering what this product actually is, it's pretty simple, it's a Fitbit-for-your-underwear. Interestingly it was then, and still is now, for "pre-order" only, you can't actually get your hands on this product yet.)

Most read this press release as "Myant is going to use our at-a-distance wireless charging in this product" and a stamp of approval from an actual company with products. What he actually said though, was that WattUp will be used - this is the marketing term that includes both their "ineffective at distance" charging as well as their completely separate "works only when in contact" version to confuse people. They can claim 5 Watts charging with WattUp, meaning their contact version (about the same as existing, prevalent, Qi based charging) while allowing people to assume they mean their not-available at-distance charging is used. That at-distance charging method can supposedly charge at around 100x slower, while needing a safety cutoff if you come with in 50 centimeters. They used this technique to bamboozle tech journalists at this year's CES, I reported on that here.

If you looked at Myant's website back during this announcement, you'd see graphics like this:

It's clear there's a wireless charger, that it's WattUp from Energous, and that wireless charging is a big selling point for them - such a big point that there's no wire included in the package. The Myant CEO , Tony Chahine, made a huge point about that this January in another press release:

"We created a transformational ambient interface through our SKIIN products. They provide bi-directional access to the human body for the purpose of connecting us to our loved ones and ourselves through IoT. It is important to me that advancements in innovation reach everyone, including the elderly, the sick and children. The seemingly simple action of plugging, unplugging and manually charging could alone be the very thing that will inhibit a user from benefiting from technology."

So a huge win for Energous and helped boost their stock price during their big announcements at CES this year, giving ammunition to their supporters to silence the critics, and helping Energous' insiders reap greater financial rewards as they began to sell significant amounts of their stock.

How's this wonder product looking now? A visit to the same Myant page today finds this:

As you can see, all reference to wireless charging is gone - nothing in the product package image, no major selling point. Worse than that, it's now "High-Speed Charging" that specifically says "plugin time", and the charging cable is clearly visible. Go to the press release page, and it's seemingly scrubbed of all reference to Energous or WattUp barring a single comment in one story. 

Myant look to have dropped Energous' wireless charging from their product, even the "in-contact" version Energous have been touting for some time. Why would Myant do this, especially when they have likely already accepted money for pre-orders based on the presence of wireless charging? It would be hard to do anything other than give a refund based on not-delivering as advertised, and is a situation most companies would avoid as much as they could. Did Myant announce the product without actually testing, or did later testing find flaws in WattUp that made it impractical and force a fall-back to the boring but 100% reliable wire method? If Myant knew all along it wasn't viable, then that's criminal on a number of fronts.

When did Energous know that they were being dropped from the product? I'm interested to see how they handle this in their next earnings call - maybe in the same way they handled the departure of the Founder/CTO in the last call, which was to simply ignore it completely.

I'm not surprised by this happening, I never expect to see a practical consumer product for sale using WattUp. Announcements like the Myant Skiin line make it appear there's a route to productization for the technology, and simply extends the game of boosting the stock price. Personally I doubt Energous want there to be a product out there, as it exposes the technology to the public for them to dissect and prove what it actually is - like the FCC approval data, it lets you see the man behind the curtain. Once that happens, the smoke-and-mirrors just doesn't work anymore.

So sorry everyone, no wireless charging of your undies!

(Thanks to Tako, @jjotwitt on Twitter, for spotting this)

A follow up to this article here.