The European Commission on 23rd September 2021 presented a proposal to establish a single charger for smartphones, tablets, and other devices in two years. The revised Radio Equipment Directive (RED) proposal comes on the back of previous negotiations between the Commission and manufacturers and in response to a January 2020 resolution by the European Parliament that called for the urgent adoption of a standard for a common charger for mobile phones in order to avoid further fragmentation of the market for charging interfaces and charging communication protocols. In fact, the Commission admits that, currently, various charging communication protocols exist with varying degree of performance if charging from another brand is used. In that case, harmonising just the charging interface would not achieve full interoperability of charge. Hence, the need to harmonise both the charging interface and the charging communication protocols.
The Commission’s proposal which only covers devices using wired, not wireless, chargers include provisions to harmonise charging solutions – using USB Type C cables as the common point of reception and USB PD from the charging side. The initiative is also geared towards improving consumer convenience and cutting down on waste, specifically e-waste by allowing customers to re-use existing chargers and cables. The proposal if adopted will give manufacturers 24 months to comply with the new rules. Even though, the revised RED initiative has been welcomed, the proposal in its current form raises important questions.
The first question borders on innovation – one that has been stressed by players in the industry. Some players have said that the proposal restricts innovation insofar as it limits new charging solution possibilities.
Secondly, the proposal does not necessary address the problem of e-waste. Paradoxically, it could increase e-waste and may result in a cost to the consumer. Concretely, the proposal in its current form if passed into law, will mean that a consumer with an old phone that is USB Type C incompatible will have to shelve that phone as they would not have the possibility to acquire a new charging cable to replace the defective cable. The premature disposal of electronic gadgets and obsolescence are the one of main culprits of e-waste in Europe, and elsewhere.
Lastly, the Commission’s proposal is only focused on the charging port on the device end, although it has assured it will address the power supply end in a review to be launched later this year. In toto, the revised RED does not allow for ‘full interoperability’ on both ends of the cable – which would seem to run counter to harmonisation. The current proposal carries the risk of being seen as a piecemeal solution to a problem that needs a holistic problem-solving approach.
By Ilyass MOHAMMED