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EU requires common charger for mobile devices

25 Mar 2014  | Pablo Valerio

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In this opinion piece, Pablo Valerio discusses recent directive from the European Parliament concerning that all mobile phones and tablets in the European Union use a common charger.

Last Thursday, the European Parliament approved the final draft of the new Radio Equipment Directive, destined to replace the old 1999 "R&TTE Directive on Radio Equipment and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment." One of the most commented provisions of the new directive, which will not go into full effect until 2017, is the requirement that all mobile phones and tablets in the European Union use a common charger. While the new legislation still needs the approval of the European Council, it is essentially a shoe-in. (The European Parliament already passed it with overwhelming support, 550 votes to 12, with 8 abstentions.)

Back in 2009, the European Commission reached an agreement with 10 leading manufacturers, including BlackBerry, Samsung, Sony, and Apple, to reduce the amount of waste generated by discarded phone chargers. But the agreement only held until the end of 2012, when Apple launched its iPhone 5 in Europe and introduced a lightning connector. Apple then claimed that customers had the choice of purchasing a special Lightning-to-Micro USB adaptor to use with standard chargers. The adaptor is only available in Europe and costs an additional 19 EUR ($27). Since customers always receive lightning chargers with their iPhones, this process simply creates more waste.

When the new directive takes effect, all mobile phone manufacturers will need to provide chargers with the Micro USB interface (namely, the Micro USB configured with the CENELEC EN 62684 and ETSI EN 301489-34 standards).

There is speculation that Apple might choose to create specific versions of the iPhone for the European market with the Micro USB connector, leaving the rest of the world with the proprietary chargers. This will allow the company to comply with European regulations and control the distribution of specific accessories in Europe. It will also please European Apple distributors, stores, and carrier partners because it will reduce the amount of "grey imports" of iPhones and iPads from the US, where prices are 30 per cent lower. But that will kill the additional income Apple makes licensing the use of the Lightning connector.

German EU MP Barbara Weiler, a member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, said:

"An apparently small detail has become a big hit in the media, namely the common charger for mobile phones and other small devices. And public support is justified. It's about reducing bureaucracy and—perhaps more importantly—to avoid waste. More than 50,000 tonnes of e-waste generated so far in a year [because of different chargers]. That will soon come to an end. [...] With this agreement we will find more safety under the Christmas tree. I am especially pleased that we agreed on the introduction of a common charger—although the Council and the Commission were hesitant at first. This will benefit the consumers. [Translation from German provided by the European Parliament.]"

It might be necessary to make some adjustments to the Micro USB standards before the directive is effective, since many devices are now equipped with significantly bigger batteries. The current specification of the power-carrying pins, No. 1 and No. 5, are rated to carry 1.8 Amps at 5V DC, enough for 9 watts of charging power, well above the USB 2.0 and 3.0 specs of 5 watts. But devices such as the new iPad Air can take 10 watts of fast charging using the lightning connector, and smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy 5 are equipped with a 2.8 A battery, which requires more than 3 hours to charge at 9 watts. New smartphones and tablets could require faster charging options as battery capacity increases. I use a standard Samsung 0.7 A for all my devices (I don't have an iPhone) because it helps extend the battery life.

Nevertheless the new regulation will help save Europeans a lot of charger clutter, money, and frustration. I hope the industry is willing to cooperate and we can share one connector between all our mobile gear.

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