As a founder and chief executive officer of wireless charging solutions company PowerSquare Inc, Pavan Pudipeddi is bullish about the wireless charging market in India. A wireless power industry veteran, he was earlier past of Texas Instruments’s battery management and wireless power division.
Pudipeddi spoke to Fortune India about his plans around ‘smart cities’ and electric vehicles, and the journey of being a hardware startup.
How big is the wireless charging market globally and in India? What in your opinion is the inflection point for the market to take off in India?
Even though wireless charging technology has been around for almost a decade, the market has witnessed a sudden rise in interest because leading smartphone makers adopted the technology. Today I can see that wireless charging is becoming one of the most promising technologies of the future which will revolutionise the electronics industry. According to a report from Navigant Research, the global wireless charging market is expected to reach $78.9 billion by 2024.
The U.S. is still one of the largest markets for wireless charging technology because of greater technology penetration, acceptance, and presence of a large number of established players. But with rising youth population and evolving digital habits, countries such as India and China are seeing increased demand for mobile devices and the consequent need for wireless charging. There are more than 350 million smartphone users in India and this is projected to increase to 500 million in the next year. In the next 18 to 24 months we expect 10% of new smartphones to be compatible to wireless charging, and this market is expected to grow as major phone OEMs start providing wireless charging offerings to lower end phones as well.
The real inflection point for the market to take off in India will be when brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, and others adopt wireless charging technology in their smartphones and companies like Samsung and Apple start offering wireless charging to mid and lower end phones. That will give the majority of users the opportunity to enjoy the convenience of wireless charging at varied price points.
It took nearly five years for the technology to become relevant on a broader scale. What innovations will keep it relevant for a longer time to come?
Wireless Power technology is here to stay and charging a smartphone is just the beginning. There is great potential that I see in this technology to transform the way we live, work and interact with our gadgets. Worldwide, there is a real motivation from innovators to see the world wire-free.
When I talk about innovation, I can see three offerings that will keep this technology relevant for the future. First, the innovation in technology. Currently, wireless charging technology is limited to charging mobiles devices and wearables. The next innovations will make the technology available for high power applications like blenders and power tools, electric vehicles, and consumer IoT (the Internet of Things) products like wireless cameras, door bells, and thermostats. Another big area where wireless power can add value is industrial applications like drones, factory automation, handheld terminals, and much more.
Second, the innovation in product development. All the wireless charging products look extremely gadget-like to me now. But with proliferation of the technology, I can see innovations that will help embed wireless charging technology into lifestyle products which are already a part of a consumer’s everyday life. Think about wireless chargers built into magazine racks, coin/key trays, coasters, table tops, car consoles, things like that.
And, third, the innovations in product offerings. Wireless power is just the underlying technology that many interesting offerings can be built upon. Besides being a mobile accessory, wireless power technology will enable companies to develop a software layer connecting each of the pads to the Internet and enable a smart café or a smart office experience. Multiple companies, including PowerSquare, are already working on these solutions.
I can imagine a future where wireless charging touches every aspect of a consumer’s life. I can charge my gadgets wirelessly at home, use a coffee maker on a wireless powered kitchen counter top, jump into my car which was charged wirelessly in my garage, boost up my phone with an in-car wireless charger, and look up the nearest cafe for a charging spot as I stroll around downtown and drop my laptop case on a mat to charge all its contents. All of this without ever having to plug in.
What are your India plans in the context of the government's ‘Smart Cities’ initiative?
There are three key places where a consumer charges their device–at home, while travelling, and at work. In order to make our presence ubiquitous in these three places, we are working on our B2C and B2B (business to business) offerings. Our B2C offerings will primarily focus on wireless charging products that target charging at home and on the go. Our near-term B2B strategy is to work with automotive OEMs and Tier1 suppliers to offer a complete ‘made-in-India’ solution for in-car wireless charging. In the long term, as the Smart Cities initiative materialises, we look forward to working with partners and offer the underlying technology behind smart homes, smart offices, and smart mobility systems such as wireless charging solutions for electric vehicles, drones, wireless sensor nodes, etc.
How different/difficult is the journey of being a hardware start-up from India? Is the West-first strategy the ideal route, unlike the India-first strategy which many Indian and foreign enterprises adopt?
There have been successful start-ups offering hardware solutions in India, but they have not been able to replicate the same success when they go outside the country. They have also not been able to command a premium, especially on hardware solutions. As a hardware start-up focussed on U.S.-first strategy, the biggest challenge would be access to advisors or talent that understands the market. As founders, unless you have a significant understanding of the sensibilities of the U.S. market and its audience, we wouldn’t suggest a U.S.-first approach.
For our application, the US-first strategy works as it is a bigger and more evolved market. And because of a strong online presence, boundaries are fast disappearing. But this may not be true for all applications or businesses. With a U.S.-first approach and validation from international audience, we are looking at driving strong brand awareness within India as compared to local or Asian competition. It is yet to be seen if this translates into a price advantage for us. We do not believe in just selling our products through e-commerce or retail stores like other brands, but providing a good user experience. Being one of the very few brands to sell in India, we want to ensure that the consumers understand the technology and experience the convenience of using wireless charging in their life.
How do you see China in the larger scheme of things for the wireless charging technology market?
As seen in Bluetooth accessories and powerbanks, the strong Chinese ecosystem will help in the proliferation and growth of wireless charging technology. This will give consumers access to products at various price points. From a business aspect, a pure hardware offering will always invite competition from low-cost Chinese manufacturers. The way to combat that is to create software and/or a service offering that will keep our customers engaged and happy.
Our vision is to touch each and every aspect of consumer life with power and charging solutions which include hardware, software and a combination. Bottom line, we need the China ecosystem to create the customer base so we can service them with superior products and experiences. Let’s bake a big cake and we’ll all have a slice.
(An edited version of the interview is available in the March 2018 issue)