March 16 2011
On February 8 2011 the European Commission published a question-and-answer document to explain the issues surrounding the common mobile phone charger for which a new EU standard was introduced on December 29 2010.(1)
Fourteen of the largest mobile phone manufacturers on the market, producing 90% of the mobile phones that are sold in the European Union, agreed to cooperate with the commission. The manufacturers, including Nokia, Sony Eriksson and Samsung, signed a memorandum of understanding with the commission in 2009. The new charger will be rolled out during 2011.
The document explains that due to the wide selection of mobile phone makes and models available, there are currently 30 different chargers on the market. Aside from the inconvenience that this causes to consumers, this situation has a profoundly negative impact on the environment, since every time a consumer changes his or her phone, he or she is also required to change the charger, thereby generating huge amounts of waste. It is thought that this leads to more than 51,000 tonnes of electrical waste being generated in the European Union every year.
To tackle this issue, in March 2009 the commission issued an ultimatum to mobile phone manufacturers: either to become subject to mandatory EU legislation or to voluntarily adopt a common charger. The manufacturers chose the latter. As a result, EU consumers should soon be able to purchase a standard mobile phone charger with which to charge all data-enabled phones – including smartphones – which are sold in the 27 EU member states.
The industry committed itself to providing chargers which are compatible with the standard Micro-Universal Serial Bus (USB) connector. Once this commitment becomes effective, it will be possible to charge compatible data-enabled mobile phones with any common charger. As a result, not only will the need for consumers to buy a new charger with every mobile phone be removed, but they may also benefit from more efficient and cheaper standalone chargers.
The new chargers are expected to improve energy efficiency, thus reducing energy consumption, as they will also comply with European standards on energy efficiency.
Furthermore, consumers will soon be able to purchase mobile phones without also buying a charger. It is expected that this will lead to savings for consumers, who will also be able to purchase more cost-effective standalone chargers. That said, the commission will not interfere with manufacturers' pricing strategies.
The agreement covers data-enabled mobile phones (ie, those phones which have a data port and can be connected to a computer). The agreement excludes mobile phones which do not support data exchange and certain unusual formats of phone (eg, phones worn as wristwatches). However, taking into account that, on average, people replace their mobile phone every two years, and that market trends show that ever-increasing numbers of data-enabled mobile phones are being purchased, it is hoped that the common charger will be predominant by 2013.
Regarding the agreed common interface, the cooperating companies have agreed to develop a common specification in order to allow for the full compatibility of chargers and mobile phones on the basis of the Micro-USB interface. These specifications have been translated into European standards. The agreement allows for the use of an adaptor.
The industry expects that the first generation of common charger mobile phones will reach the EU market in early 2011, after the conclusion of the standardisation work. While the situation applies to all 27 EU member states, given that the market for mobile phones is global, the technical specifications of the new chargers are being discussed with other international standardisation organisations in order to facilitate the adoption of the 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 create opportunities for electronic goods makers.
The agreement covers only mobile phones and not other products such as MP3 players or laptop computers. The reason for this is that mobile phones are by far the largest group of such products used by consumers. Nonetheless, in future, a harmonised charging solution that applies to other portable communication products may emerge and cover other devices.
On December 10 2010 the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation published the new standard for the common mobile charger entitled "Interoperability specifications of common external power supply (EPS) for use with data-enabled mobile telephones" (EN 62684), which it developed following a request from the commission.(2)
(1) The commission's question-and-answer document on the common mobile charger can be accessed at
(2) Further information on this topic and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation contact details can be accessed at www.cenelec.eu/Cenelec/CENELEC+in+action/News+Centre/CENELEC+News/General/New+standard+for+common+mobile+chargers.htm.
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