There are an estimated 500 million mobile phones being used across the European Union today. The wide selection of makes and models available means that there are currently 30 different chargers on the market. Aside from the inconvenience that this causes to individuals having so many different types of chargers, it has a profoundly negative impact on the environment. The main issue is that whenever someone changes phone they are required to change their charger which leads to an incredible amount of waste. This process currently generates more than 51,000 tonnes of electric waste per year in the EU.
What was the process leading up to a solution?
To tackle this issue the European Commission gave phone manufacturers an ultimatum in March 2009: to voluntarily adopt a common charger or be subject to mandatory EU legislation. As a result in June 2009, Europe's major mobile phone manufacturers agreed in close co-operation with the Commission services to adopt a common charger for data-enabled mobile phones sold in the EU. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) - signed by 14 manufacturers - committed the industry to provide charger compatibility. In the course of 2011, European consumers will be able to purchase a standard mobile phone charger for all data-enabled phones - including smartphones - sold in the 27 EU Member States.
What is the solution envisaged?
In the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the industry commits to the provision of compatible chargers on the basis of the Micro-USB connector. Once the commitment becomes effective, it will be possible to charge compatible data-enabled mobile phones with any common charger.
Who will benefit and how?
Consumers will not need to buy a new charger together with every mobile phone, and they may 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 also expected to be notable: reducing the number of chargers unnecessarily sold will reduce the associated generated electronic waste. The common chargers are also expected to improve energy-efficiency, thus reducing energy consumption as they will also comply with the newest European standards on energy efficiency.
What will be the impact of the common charger on prices?
Consumers will be able to purchase mobile phones without a charger. It is expected that the savings will be translated into lower prices for consumers who will also be able to purchase more cost-effective stand-alone chargers than is currently the case. However, the European Commission do not interfere with manufacturer's price strategies.
Will all mobile phones be compatible with the common charger?
The agreement covers data-enabled mobile phones i.e. those which have a data port and can be connected to a computer. It 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 people replace their mobile phone every two years on average and, according to market trends showing ever-increasing numbers of data-enabled mobile phones, it is hoped that the common charger will be predominant by 2013.
Which is the agreed common interface?
The companies have agreed to develop a common specification in order to allow for full compatibility of chargers and mobile phones on the basis of the Micro-USB interface. These specifications have been translated in European standards. The agreement allows for the use of an adaptor.
When is the proposal likely to come into effect?
It is expected that the first generation of new common charger mobile phones will reach the EU market from early 2011, after the conclusion of the standardisation work. The Commission will work closely with industry to facilitate an implementation of the agreement as soon as possible.
Which companies have signed the Memorandum of Understanding?
The following 14 companies have signed the MoU: Apple, Emblaze Mobile, Huawei Technologies, LGE, Motorola Mobility, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research In Motion (RIM), Samsung, Sony Ericsson, TCT Mobile (ALCATEL mobile phones), Texas Instruments and Atmel. Together, their brands represent more than 90% of the mobile phones sold in Europe today.
Where does the agreement apply?
The MoU applies to all 27 EU Member States. However, as the market for mobile phones is 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.
How does the agreement 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 which take account of electro-magnetic emissions and ensure that common chargers have sufficient immunity to external interference. Along with the application of existing standards under appropriate Directives, they will enable safe use of the new chargers and mobile phones.
Why does the agreement only cover mobile phones and not other products like MP3 players, laptops etc?
It is expected that a harmonised charging solution that applies to other portable communication products may 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. Secondly, there is a difference between the products. Laptops, for example, have much bigger batteries than hand-held equipment, and requirements for chargers are not the same. Thirdly, there are different safety risks to be taken into account.
What will happen to all the old chargers?
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, 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 Micro-USB connector?
Some manufacturers already provide chargers with a Micro-USB connector but those chargers were produced for specific mobile phones and may not be suitable for charging all kinds of mobile phones with a Micro-USB connector. The development of European Standards (including IEC/EN62684) was needed to ensure the compatibility and the functionality of the new generation of Micro-USB chargers and only new chargers which comply with the new European Standards will be considered as a "common charger".
Some producers are already talking about phones which do not need chargers and could be powered by solar power or electric/radio waves. Do we need the common charger?
The MoU is based on a technology which is expected to become mainstream in the coming 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 that can 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 and when can consumers buy these new common chargers?
It is important to keep in mind that the introduction of the common charger will be gradual and depend much on consumers' behaviour and the rate of replacement of old phones. The end of the standardisation work allows for the common charger being made available in the first months of 2011 and the main mobile phone manufacturers have engaged themselves to do so. The European Commission will watch closely that this happens. Obviously, the European Commission cannot decide on the manufacturer's marketing and distribution strategies, but is confident that the common chargers will be available to the public through the regular marketing channels during 2011.