Industry trumps regulation in meeting phone users' needs

EU unveils the new common mobile phone charger

Europe's first common mobile phone charger was revealed on Tuesday. Gone are the days of running out of battery charge when none of your colleagues have the same make of phone as you, or the hotel doesn't have your brand's charger.

The European Commission has been pushing this idea for many years, but it was up to industry to make it a reality. In 2009 the Commission issued an ultimatum to phone manufacturers: voluntarily adopt a common charger or face new legislation. Despite an absence of legislation, 14 major players in the mobile phone market responded to consumers' demands with unusual levels of cooperation in agreeing to technical standards.

In December the European standardization bodies CEN-CENELEC and ETSI issued the harmonized standards based on Micro-USB connector technology, meaning that mobile phone manufacturers can now proceed to design and testing stages for chargers ensuring that phones are safe and interoperable.

There are currently 30 different chargers on the market for Europe's estimated 500 million mobile phones. Aside from inconvenience to consumers, this situation also has a negative impact on the environment as people throw away chargers every time they change phones. This process currently generates more than 51,000 tons of electric waste per year in the E.U., according to the Commission.

The new common charger may lead to a new industry with companies potentially manufacturing stand-alone chargers without phones. Consumers will also be able to purchase mobile phones without chargers. Furthermore, it opens the door for charger harmonization on products such as MP3 players, laptops and cameras, although the Commission warns that there are different safety risks to be taken into account with these products.

The 14 phone manufacturers are Apple, Emblaze Mobile, Huawei, LGE, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research In Motion, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, TCT Mobile (ALCATEL mobile phones), Texas Instruments and Atmel. Their brands represent more than 90 percent of the mobile phones sold in Europe today. They plan to roll out the new common mobile phone chargers to the European market in the course of 2011.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

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