Incompatibility of chargers for mobile phones is not only a major inconvenience for users, but also a considerable environmental problem. Users who want to change their mobile phones usually have to acquire a new charger and dispose of the old one, even if it is in good condition.
In response to citizens' demand for a common charger, the Commission invited manufacturers to agree on a technical solution making the chargers of different brands compatible.
As a result, world leading mobile phone producers committed themselves to ensure compatibility of data-enabled mobile phones, expected to be predominant in the market within two years, on the basis of the Micro-USB connector.
The agreement was signed in June 2009 by Apple, Emblaze Mobile, Huawei Technologies, LGE, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research in Motion (RIM), Samsung, SonyEricsson, TCT Mobile (ALCATEL), Texas Instruments and Atmel (IP/09/1049).
In December 2009. the Commission issued a mandate to the European Standardisation Organisations CEN-CENELEC and ETSI requesting they develop European standards for a common charger.
What's the issue?
Incompatibility of chargers for mobile phones is a major environmental problem and an inconvenience for users across the European Union. Currently specific chargers are sold together with specific mobile phones. A user who wants to change his/her mobile phone must usually acquire a new charger and dispose the current one, even if this is in perfect condition. This unnecessarily generates important amounts of electronic waste.
Which is the solution envisaged?
Harmonising mobile phone chargers will bring significant economic and environmental benefits. Following a request from the European Commission and in close co-operation with the Commission services, major producers of mobile phones have agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding (“MoU”) to harmonise chargers for data-enabled mobile phones sold in the EU. Industry commits to provide chargers compatibility on the basis of the Micro-USB connector. Once the commitment becomes effective, it will be possible to charge data-enabled mobile phones from any charger compatible with the common specifications.
Who will benefit and how?
Consumers will not need to buy a new charger together with every mobile phone, and they should also benefit from more efficient and cheaper stand-alone chargers. Consumers will be able to charge their mobile phone from the new common charger.
The environmental benefits of harmonising chargers are expected to be very important: reducing the number of chargers unnecessarily sold will reduce the associated generated electronic waste, which currently amounts to thousands of tons. Harmonised chargers are also expected to improve energy-efficiency, thus reducing energy consumption as they will comply with the newest European standards which resume the latest requirements on energy efficiency.
What will be the impact of the MoU on prices?
Consumers will be able to purchase mobile phones without a charger, thus logically reducing their cost. They will also be able to purchase much more cost-effective stand-alone chargers than it is currently the case.
Are all mobile phones covered by the MoU?
The MoU covers data-enabled mobile phones i.e. that can be connected to a computer. The MoU excludes mobile phones which do not support data exchange and also certain unusual formats of phone, for example phones worn as wristwatches. However, taking into account that all of us replace our mobile phone every two years on average and according to market trends in favour of data enabled mobile phones, it is hoped the universal charger will be predominant in two years time, after its introduction in 2011.
Which is the agreed common interface?
On the basis of the Micro USB interface, the companies have agreed to develop a common specification in order to allow for full compatibility and safety of chargers and mobile phones. These specifications have been translated in European standards.
When is the proposal likely to come into effect?
It is expected that the first generation of new inter-chargeable mobile phones will reach the EU market from 2011 onwards, after the conclusion of the standardisation work. The Commission will closely work with industry in order to facilitate an implementation of the agreement on the market as soon as possible.
Which companies have signed the MoU?
The following 13 companies have signed the MoU: Apple, Emblaze Mobile, Huawei Technologies, LGE, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research in Motion (RIM), Samsung, Sony Ericsson, TCT Mobile (ALCATEL mobile phones), and Texas Instruments. They represent more than 90% of the mobile phone sales in Europe.
Where does the MoU apply?
The MoU covers the territory of the EU. However, as the market for mobile phones is essentially global, the technical specifications of the new chargers are being discussed with other international standardisation organisations to facilitate the adoption of the European common charger in world markets. The possibility of using the common charger in other parts of the world would make it even more convenient and give an additional competitive advantage to the European manufacturers.
How long will it take to charge a mobile phone with the new common chargers?
The large majority of phones will charge within 2 hours. Only in combination of a large battery with a small charger, the phone will charge within 6 hours.
How does the MoU consider possible safety risks arising from the use of chargers and mobile phones produced by different manufacturers?
The MoU is accompanied by the development of new European standards, on the basis of which safe use of new chargers and mobile phones will be guaranteed. They also take account of electro-magnetic emissions and ensure that common chargers have sufficient immunity to external interference.
Why does the MoU only cover mobile phones and not other products like MP3 players, laptops etc?
It is expected that a harmonised charging solution that applies to most portable communication products will emerge and cover more and more devices over time. But this cannot be done immediately. First mobile phones are by far the biggest group of these products used by a large group of consumers. Second, there is a difference between the products. Laptops for example have much bigger batteries than hand-held equipment, and also requirements for chargers are not the same. Third, there are different safety risks to be taken into account.
What will happen to all the old chargers? Will they simply be dumped?
The WEEE Directive (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) promoting the collection and recycling of electronic equipment (Directive 2002/96/EC) has been in force since February 2003. It provides for the creation of collection schemes where consumers return their used e-waste free of charge. However, only one third of electrical and electronic waste in the European Union is appropriately treated.
Therefore, in December 2008 the European Commission proposed to revise the directives on electrical and electronic equipment: the Commission proposes to reach 65% of the average weight of electrical and electronic equipment.
I have already a micro-USB charger, could I use it to charge all mobile phones with a mirco-USB connector?
Some manufacturers already propose chargers with a micro-USB connector but those chargers were produced for specific mobile phones and are not to be used to charge all kinds of mobile phones with a micro-usb connector.
The modification of European Standards was needed to ensure the compatibility and the safe functioning of the new generation of micro-USB charger and only new chargers which comply with the new European Standards will be considered as "common charger".
Some producers are already talking about phones which don't need chargers and could be powered by solar power or electric/radio waves. Why then still these chargers?
The MoU is based on a technology which is expected to become mainstream in the following years. However, harmonisation would have to follow technological innovations.
For the time being there is no effective charging facility for mobile phones without a separate charger. There are only some isolated phones to be charged through solar energy techniques, but they are not a mass product and it is not likely that they will become one. In the EU there is, on average, not enough sunlight to power batteries from a relatively small surface.
Where can consumers buy these new chargers? And will they be available in all member states starting January 2011?
It is important to keep in mind that the introduction of the universal charger will be gradual and depend much on consumers' behaviour and the rate of replacement of old phones. Any way, the end standardisation work allows for the common charger being made available early 2011 and the main mobile phones manufacturers have engaged themselves to do so. The European Commission will watch closely that this happens.
On the other hand, the European Commission can not decide on the manufacturer's marketing and distribution strategies, but it is confident the common chargers will be available to the public through the regular marketing channels early 2011.
Will these new chargers cost approximately the same as other chargers or will they be more expensive?
The European Commission does not have this information and can not interfere with manufacturer's price strategies. For the European Commission, the costs advantages of the universal chargers will come from the possibility for consumers to purchase both mobile phones without a charger and much more cost-effective stand-alone chargers than it is currently the case.
For more information, please contact the London press office on 020 7973 1971.
Please note: all amounts expressed in sterling are for information purposes only.