Francesco Radicati – State Farm Innovation Labs

11 August 2018

Francesco Radicati served as an analyst at Ovum and is now part of the State Farm Innovation Lab. We discuss areas where wireless charging would become popular, barriers to acceptance and more. This episode was recorded in July 2018

Yuval Boger (CMO, Wi-Charge, @TheChargeGuy): Hi, Francesco, and thank you for joining me today.

Francesco Radicati (State Farm Innovation Labs): Hi, Yuval. Thanks for having me.

Yuval: Sure thing. So who are you, and what do you do?

Francesco: My name is Francesco Radicati, I’m a former consumer tech analyst with Ovum. I’ve been doing freelance and contracting work under my own business for the last few months, FRD Innovation Research, and I am about to join State Farm’s Innovation Lab as a technology analyst.

Yuval: Well, congratulations.

Francesco: Thank you.

Yuval: So I understand that in your work previously, you ran across customers who are interested in wireless charging. Is that correct?

Francesco: I have to admit that actually it’s not something that a lot of the companies I have spoken to with regard to smart home and consumer tech have really had on their radar. But to be honest, I think that that’s a mistake on their part, because the home, as it gets connected, it is getting more and more wired up and cabled up and filled with bridges from your Wi-Fi router to your Zigbee or Z-Wave bridge, or something like that. And so, I think that wireless charging is actually a good opportunity for OEMs in the smart home space to simplify their products and also reduce the amount of power that they draw continuously on the power grid.

Yuval: When you think about these types of applications, where would you see them come up first? Is it at home? Is it the office? Is it on the factory floor?

Francesco: Well, I think as with the IoT in general … just to clarify, I’m looking at this primarily through the lens of the internet of things because that’s where my focus has traditionally been … but as with the IoT in general, I think that the first steps and innovations and growth is going to be in the industrial side, in factories and places like that. And I think that there are also really good opportunities for retail, for monitors and electronic tags in shops, sensors, Bluetooth beacons to ensure that customers are getting deals that they’re interested in and getting directed to the parts of the store that are most relevant to them. And I think that in the home, it’ll come up a little bit after that, but as I said, there’s a good opportunity for device makers in the smart home sector to introduce this type of technology.

Yuval: Let me drill down on that just a little bit. When we speak with customers about wireless charging, we see three things that they are potentially interested in. One: a lot of people are just interested in charging their phones or mobile devices without contact, so sitting in a living room and just having the phone charge vicariously. The second topic is battery replacement. We see devices that are limited by battery power or that need frequent battery changes, and wireless power or wireless charging can solve that and can allow manufacturers to add more functionality to these products.

And the third one is cable elimination, so for instance, if you have a smart building, the building is smart because it has a lot of sensors, but installing all these sensors, there’s a lot of cabling and wiring and construction and a lot of money. Wireless power might provide an opportunity to just put a sensor wherever you want, and you’re done. If you look at these three, phone charging, battery replacement, or wiring elimination, do you see one more interesting in the short term than the other?

Francesco: In the short term, I have to say that probably the phone charging is the most interesting, simply because the phone is the device that everybody has, but I would like to mention the long term, the cable replacement is very interesting, because as you say, for a smart building or even, frankly, for a smart home, because we’re starting to see homes with specific sensors and ecosystems like HomeKit or Alexa built-in. You know, I think that longer-term we will see demand for being able to customize the house or have it be agnostic.

I think one way is to add different types of sensors, or sensors that are compatible with multiple standards and protocols, or the other option is to be able to make the house customizable so that if you’re tied into the Apple ecosystem when you move into a new house you can just have all the sensors replaced with HomeKit compatible sensors or vice versa, something like that. So I think that in the short term, yeah, the phone is the most interesting, but I think longer term, the cable replacement is something that companies should really be looking at.

Yuval: Going from the short term to the long term, what are the barriers that you see for the adoption of wireless charging?

Francesco: That is a very good question. I think that the main barrier is probably going to be on the side of the manufacturers, of the smart home device companies and the consumer device companies. If you’re conditioned to think that you can just plug the device into mains power and that’s how it’s going to get its charging, then that’s a mentality that companies in the wireless charging space are going to have to tackle. Yeah.

Yuval: So you’re not worried about any consumer pushback? It’s really focused on the device manufacturers?

Francesco: I think that consumers would actually find it quite convenient if they were given the option, and so I think it’s up to manufacturers to know that this is an option that they can offer.

Yuval: I was thinking about the analogies between wireless charging and Wi-Fi. I mean, Wi-Fi is obviously prevalent, and in the past people have paid a monthly subscription fee to get Wi-Fi, especially in public places. And to an extent, they also do it today, certainly at airplanes, at airports and so on. With phone batteries, today there’s a constant struggle of people to manage the battery, to make sure that you don’t run out. Where’s the nearest charger, and where’s my battery, and so on and so on? I’m wondering if you think there’s an opportunity to provide charging as a service, meaning a monthly subscription fee that – assuming the infrastructure was there – your phone would just get charged by itself, wirelessly in public places, and so you no longer have to worry about charging it yourself. Do you think there might be a market for that?

Francesco: I think that there is potential for a market like that. I question how much more widely it would have traction beyond, say, business travelers. I think that airports would be an extremely good place to put a service like that. You mentioned going to a sort of … I know that they’re not exclusively in airports or in sort of travel-related places, but I think that that’s kind of the first thing that I think of when I think of them. I think that for the average day-to-day charging need, though, I suspect that, let’s say, coffee shops or something would probably struggle to monetize that. I think that it’s kind of become an accepted thing that you go to Starbucks and you plug your phone in, if you’re lucky enough to get a spot near the wall or a spot with one of their Qi chargers or something like that.

So I think that in an enterprise, it’s much more likely that you would be able to implement a business model like that. But of course, I stand ready to be proven wrong. I’d love to see somebody who can make a go at wireless charging for environments like coffee shops or other public spots.

Yuval: Next to last question, as a consumer yourself, what is the thing that you’d like to have wirelessly charged? Is it your phone? Is it something else that would be the number one priority?

Francesco: In terms of the devices I actually use right now, probably my phone or tablet, or even my laptop, but I would love to see a fully kitted-out smart home with lights and connected doorbell and kitchen implements that can take advantage of this. I think that would be really interesting to see.

Yuval: Yes, I think that would be very cool. I know you’re starting a new job soon, but is there a place where people can reach out to you, Twitter or email or some other way, if they want to connect with you?

Francesco: Yeah. My webpage is frdinnovationresearch.com, and I’m also on Twitter, @fradicati.

Yuval: Excellent. Thank you very much, Francesco. Thank you for being here today.

Francesco: Thank you for having me.

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