How 5G could one day help automatically charge wearables like smartwatches

·2-min read
What if smartwatches could one day recharge directly via the national 5G network?

In Japan, a trial program will soon get underway to test the wireless charging of wearables via the 5G network. The idea is that a very slight electrical charge will automatically recharge nearby Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as smartwatches or connected headphones. However, legal issues mean it's unlikely that you'll be able to take advantage of this technology anytime soon.

According to Nikkei Asia, Japanese telecom group SoftBank is preparing to test technology that will allow wearables such as smartwatches or connected headphones to recharge in the street without any user intervention. The necessary technology will be directly implemented in the 5G stations deployed by SoftBank. However, a green light from the authorities is needed to launch this real-world trial.

This trial is taking place while SoftBank continues to replace all its 4G antennas with 5G stations -- a long-term operation. The experiment involves emitting a very slight electrical charge, of about 1mW -- sufficient to charge nearby devices -- in the 28GHz high-frequency band used in 5G communication. According to SoftBank, this power, which has a range of about 10 meters, will be completely harmless to health. In time, its range could even be extended to 100 meters.

If this trial is a success and the government authorizes this process, then SoftBank plans to commercialize its technology from as soon as 2025. Outside of Japan, this type of initiative will also depend on the approval of the authorities. And it's far from a done deal!

The idea of one day being able to recharge connected devices via the surrounding 5G network without any additional infrastructure has been gaining ground for a while, in Japan as elsewhere. Earlier this year, American researchers worked on the possibility of transforming part of the 5G network into an electrical network, capable of recharging small IoT objects nearby. They have developed tiny antennas that blend in perfectly with their background, capable of capturing millimeter waves and then transforming them into energy, which is sent to connected objects in the vicinity.

In each case, the idea is to take advantage of the 5G network to power various IoT devices, without any constraints for users. As a result, connected devices could be continuously charged, as long as they are close to a 5G network. This type of solution also promises to save energy, without affecting the quality of the 5G network.

Alternatively, some firms are working on charging via light, thanks to small photovoltaic modules affixed to devices -- as proposed by the French startup Dracula Technologies -- or via radio waves, as in Xiaomi's laboratories.

David Bénard

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