EU industry commits to universal mobile phone charger

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Europe’s major mobile phone manufacturers have agreed to adopt a universal charger for handsets sold in the EU from 2010. The deal is expected to please consumers and reduce pollution, but is limited to data-enabled handsets, which at the moment represent only a quarter of the market.

The agreement was signed by ten large companies which produce 90% of the 185 million hadnsets sold on average every year in the EU. These include Nokia, Apple, LG, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Texas Instruments, NEC, Qualcomm and Research In Motion. 

“The new standard will be ready in the course of 2010,” said Bridget Cosgrave, director-general of Digital Europe, the association which brings together actors in the high-tech industry and represents all the signatories of the agreement on universal chargers.

Deal covers only EU market for now

This means that from next year, EU consumers should be able to purchase new mobile phones without a charger, if they already own one which is compatible with the standard. Cosgrave did not give prices for stand-alone universal chargers or mobiles without chargers. 

The standard will be based on the ‘Micro USB’ interface, which is already widely used to connect computers and laptops to other devices, including mobile phones. According to the blueprint, the decisions will apply to the EU only. However, companies expect other countries to follow, as was the case with the GSM standard for mobile phone communications, which began life as an EU standard but quickly became global.

EU Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen welcomed the deal and predicted that the new charger model would be widely used across Europe within three years. Cosgrave was more prudent, saying this would depend on consumers, and in particular on the rate at which handsets currently in use are replaced.

Indeed, the new universal charger will be compatible only with more advanced data-enabled mobile phones, such as smartphones and new-generation handsets, which at the moment represent approximately 25% of the mobile phones sold in the EU.

Verheugen pointed out that it would have not been useful to apply the standard to conventional mobile phones too, because current trends show that these are going to be replaced by the most advanced handsets soon.

Critics, however, fear that by limiting the standard to more advanced handsets, the majority of consumers will be cut off from the advantages of the deal.

Offsetting revenue cuts

Handset manufacturers agreed to cut revenues linked to the sale of specific chargers, but they expect to recover potential losses by increasing sales of new, more advanced and more expensive mobile phones.

The migration from the current company-specific standards to a single standard will not impose extra costs on the industry, because many manufacturers are already equipping their new products with USB interfaces. 

Indeed, many also allow users to recharge their mobile phones directly from computers using the USB interface. In such cases, there is no use for a charger and consumers can easily do without it.

The industry denied that it was planning to extend the standard to other devices, such as laptops or cameras. Verheugen underlined that the target is to have a unique charger for all devices “in a couple of years’ time”.

EU Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen said: "I am very pleased that industry has found an agreement, which will make life much simpler for consumers. They will be able to charge mobile phones anywhere from the new common charger. This also means considerably less electronic waste, because people will no longer have to throw away chargers when buying new phones."

Bridget Cosgrave, director-general of Digital Europecommented: "We are delighted to announce a Memorandum of Understanding signed by leading mobile manufacturers, representing more than 90% of the European market together with leading chipset manufacturers. This MoU defines specific measures to be taken to significantly increase compatibility between mobile phone and chargers."

UK Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour, his party's spokesman on consumer issues, said: "The days of drawers full of useless old mobile phone chargers will soon be over. Common sense has prevailed. This is a simple agreement that will have an extremely positive impact on users' lives. We will no longer have to worry about forgetting our chargers and having to ask around to find one that is compatible."

In March, EU Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen gave industry an ultimatum to voluntarily adopt common standards for handset chargers in order to limit waste. Manufacturers were asked to find an agreement by April, and Brussels threatened to impose new binding rules in the event of non-compliance (EURACTIV 26/03/09).

The initiative originates from a written question to the European Commission tabled by former Italian MEP Marco Cappato (ALDE) in October 2008. "This lack of interoperability, as well as being inconvenient for consumers, has also obvious environmental consequences," he wrote.

Mobile telecoms operators, represented by the GSM Association (GSMA), had previously committed to adopting a universal charger by 2012.

  • In the course of 2010, new universal chargers will be made available in the EU.
  • By 2012, the Commission expects most EU consumers to be using the new standard.

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