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Mobile phone industry agrees to make interchangeable chargers.
BRUSSELS – We’ve all been there.
You’re away from home waiting for an important call and your cell phone is showing low bat. You ask around the room to see if your colleagues can lend you their charger, but you’re a Nokia fan in a room filled with people packing Motorolas, iPhones and Sony Ericssons.
It’s a universal problem, but it could soon have a universal solution.
Ten leading handset producers have agreed to start making fully interchangeable chargers for use on any of their cell phones. The universal chargers should be available from early 2010, in Europe at least.
As well as easing a major modern world irritant, the agreement should also help the environment by eliminating the need to throw away your charger every time you swap your old mobile for a new model. The industry estimates up to 82,000 metric tons of chargers are discarded every year.
“This also means considerably less electronic waste, because people will no longer have to throw away chargers when buying new phones,” the European Union’s Industry Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said last week as he welcomed the agreement.
There are some provisos however. For the moment, the agreement only applies to the 27-nation EU, but the industry is expected to follow up quickly by launching the universal charger in other markets. The deal also only covers the higher-end, data-enabled phones, but these are expected to account for half of all new phones by 2010. The EU hopes all mobiles will be running off the new chargers within three years of the launch.
The industry says the new inter-changeable charger will be more energy efficient than current models. At the GSM Association, which represents about 1,000 companies in the mobile-phone business, they estimate the switch to a universal charger could cut the production of chargers by half and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 21 million metric tons a year.
“The universal charging solution will achieve environmental benefits on two main fronts: firstly by limiting the number of charger models manufactured, shipped and thrown away, and secondly by improving overall charger energy efficiency which will reduce the carbon,” said Claire Cranton, the GSMA’s director of media relations.
The EU had put pressure on the industry to come up with a single charger to replace the about 30 different types on the European market. EU officials had threatened to impose mandatory regulations if the manufacturers failed to reach a voluntary agreement.
“I am also very pleased that this solution was found on the basis of self-regulation,” Verheugen said. “As a result, the (European) Commission does not consider it necessary to introduce legislation.”
Although the memorandum of understanding reached by the manufacturers only applies to the EU, the global nature of the cell phone market means it is likely to be expanded to cover markets around the world. The GSMA said back in February it wanted to have most mobile phones sold worldwide using a common charger by Jan. 1, 2012.
The 10 companies that signed up last week are: Apple, LG, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Research In Motion, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Texas Instruments. Together they account for 90 percent of European mobile phone sales.
The standard charger will use mini-USB connectors.
Verheugen said he would now like the see similar agreements on harmonized chargers for laptop computers, cameras and other devices.
There are about 400 million cell phones active in Europe, according to EU figures, with Europeans replacing their mobiles at a rate of around 180 million a year. Worldwide, the GSMA estimates 1.2 billion cell phones were sold in 2008, of which at least half were replacements.
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