Common mobile phone charger to hit EU shelves

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A universal charger for phones that can be connected to a computer is expected to reach European consumers in the coming weeks, as new harmonised standards are now available for major mobile phone producers, the European Commission has announced.

European standardisation bodies CEN-CENELEC and ETSI have published the harmonised standards necessary to manufacture mobile phones that are compatible with a new common charger.

This means that as soon as industry delivers, EU consumers should be able to purchase new mobile phones without a charger, provided that they already own one which is compatible with the standard.

"The common charger will make life easier for consumers, reduce waste and benefit businesses," said EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani.

However, the new universal charger will only be compatible with more advanced data-enabled phones (those which can be connected to a computer), such as smartphones and next-generation handsets, which at the moment represent just a quarter of the market.

According to the Commission, it would have not been beneficial to apply the standard to conventional mobile phones too, because current trends show indicate that most of these will be replaced by the most advanced handsets soon.

Nevertheless, critics fear that by limiting the standard to more advanced handsets, the majority of consumers will not be able to enjoy the advantages of the new standard.

Rest of the world to follow?

The common charger will be based on the 'Micro USB' interface, which is already widely used to connect computers and laptops to other devices, including mobile phones.

The new standards apply to the EU only, but 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.

The EU executive expects the first common chargers and mobile phones compatible with the new standards to hit European markets in the first few months of 2011.

A Commission spokesman said he had been told the first common charger might be on the market "in the coming weeks".

More than 500 million mobile phones are in use in the EU - with just as many chargers of over 30 different types.

When consumers change phones they are left with fully-functional but useless chargers, which in the end become electronic waste.

To reduce the number of chargers unnecessarily sold and the associated generation of electronic waste, the European Commission pressured Europe's leading mobile phone manufacturers to agree in June 2009 to adopt a universal charger for handsets sold in the EU from 2010.

In December 2009 the Commission issued European standardisation organisations CEN-CENELEC and ETSI with a mandate to develop European standards for the common charger.

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

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