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One to charge them all

The European Parliament has decided to demand a universal charging solution for cellphones, a move that will affect Apple more than most.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have embraced an opportunity to mandate the use of universal charging solutions for mobile phones.

An amendment to the Radio Equipment Directive of the European Parliament will require radio equipment and in particular, mobile phones to be compatible with a universal charger. The decision builds on the European Commission’s 2009 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with fourteen major device manufacturers which sealed a commitment to common standards for smartphones.

Now, with a short window of opportunity to revise the amendment, ITU is issuing a call to include specific reference to ITU’s global Universal Charging Solution (UCS), embodied in Recommendation ITU-T L.1000. The standard is approved by 193 Member States and around 700 private-sector companies, and has already been widely adopted by many device manufacturers and supported by service providers around the world.

Dr Hamadoun I. Tour√©, Secretary-General, ITU: ‚”With ITU’s UCS we have a common-sense remedy to the very challenging problem of e-waste that can be applied to the widest possible range of mobile devices. I urge the European Parliament to include specific reference to ITU’s globally agreed standard in the future Directive. This will allow manufacturers to profit from lowering unit costs of production through economies of scale while also limiting device duplication, reducing the strain on raw materials and enabling significant reductions in e-waste.‚”

The ITU UCS solution expands the application of external power adaptors (EPAs) to the vast majority of mobile devices, encompassing 2G through to 4G mobile phones and other handhelds including cordless phones, MP3/MP4 players, tablet computers, cameras, wireless headphones, and GPS devices. The UCS standard is built with the flexibility needed to account for differences in regional requirements and prioritizes energy efficiency, an extended device lifetime and the reduction of GHG emissions and e-waste.

Other features of ITU-T L.1000 include the specification of means to minimize no-load power consumption (less than 0.15W), contributing to significant energy savings. It also specifies that a detachable cable is mandatory, thereby allowing for reuse of the charger and cable for a variety of mobile phones and other devices.

With as many as 70 per cent of mobile phone users now owning standardized chargers, an important next step will be to stop routinely shipping chargers with new phones. Studies have shown that consumers are warming to the concept of a universal charger and, in a recent market trial, UK operator O2 found that, given a choice, 82 per cent of customers purchased a phone without a charger. The resulting savings in e-waste are potentially enormous, with some estimating that consumers around the world throw away 82,000 tons of redundant chargers each year. Mandating the use of ITU’s universal charger will have an enormously beneficial effect for developing countries, which currently bear the brunt of the e-waste problem.

In addition to the ITU-T L.1000 standard for mobile devices, ITU has also published a universal charging solution for stationary ICT devices such as modems, set-top boxes, home networking equipment and fixed telephones. Recommendation ITU-T L.1001 ‚”External universal power adapter solutions for stationary ICT devices‚” will further reduce the number of chargers manufactured by widening the range of compatible devices, facilitating adapter reuse and recycling, and increasing build-quality and resilience to over-voltages. Designed to promote an adapter lifespan of at least ten years, ITU-T L.1001 will limit device duplication, reduce strain on raw materials and enable significant reductions in e-waste.

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