Universal Mobile Phone Charger Offers Savings, Reduces e-Waste
Apple, LG, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research In Motion, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Texas Instruments have agreed to make their phones compatible with micro-USB-based chargers, so that a single charger can power any data-enabled mobile phone. The plan, which will go into effect in Europe in 2010, will reduce e-waste and offer savings to consumers and manufacturers.
Are old mobile phone chargers cluttering your desk drawers?
The European Commission, along with the major handset makers constituting 90 percent of the European mobile phone market, has agreed to standardize on micro-USB phone chargers for all data-enabled phones so that with each new phone purchase a new charger isn't necessary.
On June 29, Apple, LG, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research In Motion, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Texas Instruments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreeing to standardize-or harmonize, as the MoU states-their chargers.
Beginning in 2010, chargers will be inexpensive to buy and will no longer come standard with a phone-once users have a working charger, they won't need another one until it breaks.
"From where I sit, this is a win-win for everyone," Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Gartner in Italy, wrote in an e-mail. "Consumers-one charger for all phones and a lower cost of the phone. Environment-less waste. ... Phone manufacturers-less packaging, lower costs."
Laurie Armstrong, director of communications for Nokia, says that the June 29 MoU builds on a global commitment the mobile industry made in February to work on a common charger for data-enabled devices that will be available globally.
"The announcement yesterday by the EU relates specifically to ensuring that the common charger the mobile manufacturers come up with meets EU safety and quality standards for chargers," explained Armstrong.
Over the years Nokia has been a strong environmental advocate, removing PVCs from its products and phasing out other dangerous chemicals. It also reduced the amount of energy some of its chargers use by 90 percent and began reducing the size of its packaging and incorporating more recycled materials into them-which it says resulted in savings of 474 million euros, as well as the removal of 12,000 trucks from the road.
"Not all devices will use the common charger. The goal is that the majority will by 2012," said Armstrong.
"The reason for this is that not everyone around the world has access to a PC, and as such will find charging with USB very difficult," Armstrong added. "Nokia will also ensure that, as well as the majority of its devices being able to use the common charger, they will also still be compatible with the standard Nokia charger (2mm) ... helping to ensure we don't create a waste pile of old chargers and meet the environmental goals of work in this area to reduce waste and increase energy efficiency."
It has been reported that Apple, which signed the MoU, was a little slow to come to the table.
"Apple usually prefers to use its own proprietary technology, so it's not a surprise to see them dragging their heels a bit for an open standard," Neil Mawston, a U.K.-based director with Strategy Analytics, told eWEEK. "Apple may go for a hybrid strategy, selling its own proprietary charger with a micro-USB adapter."
EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Vergheugen told Reuters that unwanted phone accessories account for thousands of tons of waste in Europe each year-an amount that will presumably be lessened going forward, though surely more work can be done.
"It would be good to see other accessories, like in-car Bluetooth systems and headsets, use the same micro-USB, so that you can use the same charger for those. Some manufacturers, like Plantronics, are there already today," wrote Milanesi. "Other things that could be done to limit packaging and waste are on-phone instructions instead of manuals or disks."
Both analysts acknowledged that an initial pinch will be felt by the handset makers from the drop in charger sales. "But this should be offset by the cost savings achieved through leaner manufacturing and simpler logistics," said Mawston.