Charging Ahead

Who hasn’t found themselves stuck, outside the home, at the most inconvenient times possible, with a dead phone? Forget juicing up if you don’t have your own charger on hand.  The chance of borrowing one from anyone in close proximity is unlikely, as even smartphones made by the same manufacturer often require different chargers. 

This is a major headache for consumers.  Mobile phones are increasingly the remote controls for our lives, powering our voice calls as well as our connection to email, social networks, the Internet, music, photos and soon our money and our ability to monitor our own health, making it difficult to function when they don’t. 

The European Commission scheduled a press conference Feb. 8 to announce that -within weeks- Europeans will be able to buy a common mobile charger based around a  micro-USB connector that will work with new model smartphones manufactured by Apple, Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Huawei, NEC and TCT Mobile (Alcatel-Lucent).

 Although battery life remains an issue, a common charger should make it easier to recharge mobile phones. Going forward, families could share the same mobile phone charger and business people travelling abroad will be able to borrow one from hotel reception or the person sitting next to them on the train if they find they forgot to pack their own.

There are caveats: the EU common charger will not work with all devices, just smartphones, and only those coming onto the market in 2011.  What’s more, this is a European standard, not a global one.  Still, it is an important first step, says Bridget Cosgrave, director general of DIGTALEUROPE, a Brussels-based industry association that played a key role in bringing together a total of 14 different industry players to develop the common charger at the behest of the European Commission. 

 “The new common charger is a major achievement for industry that will bring big benefits for consumers,” says Cosgrave. “This an important consideration, in that there will be a reduced need for different types of chargers on the market and potential benefits to the environment from reduction of electronic waste.”

The average person will use up to 34 mobile phones in his or her lifetime, so the reduction of chargers that end up cluttering up drawers and trash heaps promises to be substantial. Mobile waste management is becoming an issue as the sector grapples with how to dispose not only of chargers but mobile phones, which are made of many different hazardous materials.

The European Commission’s initiative to develop a common charger was first publicized some 18 months ago. Standard bodies needed time to work on the specifications and then manufacturers of mobile phones had to agree to harmonization and start producing them. What’s new is that consumers are finally going to be able to buy them in shops. Each mobile phone manufacturer has set its own timetable for availability, with rollouts planned throughout 2011.

The common EU charger is expected to be the predominant charger on the market in Europe within two years.  The next step is getting the rest of the world onboard. “We hope that this excellent collaboration and successful launch in Europe by leading mobile phone companies will result in a global standard being adopted,” Cosgrave says.

This story appeared in a print publication Informilo produced in partnership with Raconteur Media, which was distributed at The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 14-17 and in a regular edition of the Times in the UK on Feb. 14. The print publication is the second in a series  on innovation and technology that Informilo and Raconteur Media plan have produced.






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