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Europe wants to force all mobile phones to use the same charger port

Six years ago the European Union started ‘encouraging’ mobile phone makers to unite around a common charger format, but they didn’t take the hint.

The encouragement was introduced as part of an update to the Radio Equipment Directive, through which the European Commission tries to control that market. In the name of reducing waste (without detailing how) and simplifying their use, MEPs voted to mandate the move towards a universal charger port for mobile phones. At the time the EC decided nudge theory was the best place to start.

“The modernised Radio Equipment Directive is an efficient tool to prevent interference between different radio equipment devices,” said EU spokesperson Barbara Weiler at the time. “I am especially pleased that we agreed on the introduction of a common charger. This serves the interests both of consumers and the environment. It will put an end to charger clutter and 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually.”

How many consumers were consulted for them to come to that conclusion is unclear, but who can honestly say they bear no emotional scars from having to switch between two or three port formats every now and then? Similarly it’s not immediately obvious what ecological benefit of a unified charger will be, since devices always come with one anyway, but what do we know?

Anyway, for all the EC’s efforts we’re still faced with the bleak situation of having to contend with up to three charger formats and, quite frankly, it won’t do. If mobile phone makers won’t respond to encouragement, it seems, then more assertive techniques are required to ensure compliance with the grand plan.

So recently there was a call to introduce common charger for all mobile phones, which noted ‘The Commission’s approach of “encouraging” industry to develop common chargers fell short of the co-legislators’ objectives. The voluntary agreements between different industry players have not yielded the desired results. A common charger should fit all mobile phones, tablets, e-book readers and other portable devices, MEPs will insist.”

Now, by happy coincidence, or perhaps not, the industry is gravitating towards the USB-C format anyway, especially at the top end, so it’s presumably just a matter of time before it becomes ubiquitous. When that does happen the EU bureaucracy will be able to pat itself on the back for chalking up another win for consumers and the environment.


4 comments

  1. Avatar Paul Barry 17/01/2020 @ 2:43 pm

    This article seems to be unnecessarily snarky, I think there is benefit to this idea, it could potentially also be useful in the electric car market as well. As for all phones coming with chargers, O2 has had a scheme running for a little while where they don’t supply a one with all new devices. https://www.o2.co.uk/thinkbig/planet/sustainable-products-and-services/charger-out-of-the-box With a common charger across the entire mobile phone industry this would only become more widespread.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 17/01/2020 @ 3:33 pm

      Thanks Paul. There may well be benefits to the idea, so why not let the market arrive at them without state coercion?

      I think you’ll find every drop of snark was absolutely vital and, in hindsight, I fear I may have been too sparing with it.

  2. Avatar Dan 22/01/2020 @ 11:57 am

    The market is plainly failing: the move to USB-C has been touted for years and yet one notable smartphone vendor is still stuck on a proprietary format. If any snarkiness is merited in the direction of the EU it is for not pushing harder and faster on this one.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 22/01/2020 @ 12:16 pm

      Your argument is entirely circular and only makes sense if you think the job of the market is to implement the whims of the public sector, which it isn’t. The market is functioning just fine.

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