November 30, 2021

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Europe is studying the same connectors for charging laptops, with more mobile phones than USB C

Europe is studying the same connectors for charging laptops, with more mobile phones than USB C

Interview Cell phones and other small electronic devices will have to use a single USB Type-C connector and are mainly sold without chargers.

The European Commission has drafted legislation requiring small consumer electronics manufacturers to use a single connector for charging. But it’s not just that the devices have the same physical connector, the design defines much more than that.

The Head of the Machinery and Equipment Division at the Directorate General of Internal Market, Industry, Enterprises and SMEs of the European Commission spoke to us about the details of upcoming legislation and other aspects of this issue. Barbara Bonfisoto.

In the interview you read:

  • Why is it necessary to prepare legislation and they cannot voluntarily agree with manufacturers.
  • Which devices would you need to use a single connector and why did they choose it.
  • What are the EC plans with connectors for charging laptops.
  • Whether they fear the rise in electronics prices as a result of the introduction of new obligations on manufacturers.
  • What communication protocol for shipping will be mandatory to be used by manufacturers.
  • Why does the proposal not specify any technical specifications for wireless charging.
  • When can the proposal be approved and put into effect?

The new voluntary agreement draft did not live up to expectations

At the end of two millennia, the European Commission sought to standardize the charging connector for mobile phones. These efforts later resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding, which several leading mobile phone manufacturers voluntarily joined. Why do we need legislation now? Wouldn’t just another memorandum of understanding suffice?

Yes, at first we preferred the voluntary approach. Thanks to the efforts of the European Commission, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the major players (mobile business, editor’s note) in 2009. As a result, the market situation has improved, and fragmentation has been reduced (number of different charger connectors used, note). However, the goal of ensuring complete interoperability and convenience for consumers has not been fully achieved. At the same time, voluntary agreements between manufacturers did not take into account the arrival of new technologies.

We have attempted to extend this original MOU to promote a voluntary approach. In 2018, we received a proposal for a new MoU, but this proposal did not meet our expectations. That is why we decided to prepare for a legislative initiative. This request came from several parties, including the European Parliament.

“In 2018, we received a proposal for a new Memorandum of Understanding, but this proposal did not meet our expectations. That is why we decided to prepare a legislative initiative.”

The European Commission proposes to create USB Type C as a standard universal connector that should be used not only for charging mobile phones but also for charging other types of electronic devices. What will happen?

In addition to smartphones, there will be tablets, cameras, wireless headphones, portable speakers, and portable game consoles.

Why these types of devices?

We analyzed the types of small and medium-sized electronic devices that have similar charging characteristics to smartphones and can be charged with the same charger. We did not include in the list devices that consume more energy and require more powerful charging devices, or that have some specific characteristics – for example, requiring a high degree of protection against external influences such as water or dust.

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However, at the same time, it must be said that the proposal that we present as the European Commission has been prepared so that it can be modified relatively easily in the future. In the future, for example, we can expand our reach depending on the development of technology.

So in the future, shouldn’t adding new product categories, which must use a single charging connector, take too long?

exactly.

Is the reason why laptops are not included in the proposed legislation because they require more powerful chargers than smartphones?

Yes really. Under normal circumstances, the charger you use to charge your smartphone will not allow you to charge your laptop, so we didn’t include laptops.

Are you also making a similar regulation that would standardize charging connectors for laptops?

Work is underway to apply certain rules to laptops as well. Work is also underway to review external energy directives. However, it is so far only in the preparatory stage, so I can’t say exactly whether the same rules will apply in these areas as smartphones and other small electronic devices.

Three areas covered by the legislation

In the draft legislation, which should standardize charging connectors in smartphones and other small electronics, do you only specify the physical shape, ie the connector format, or do you want to specify some other charging-related parameters?

The proposal consists of several parts. The physical appearance of the conductor is just one of them. However, the communication protocol is also defined, eg. Devices will need to use the USB Power Delivery protocol. This is important because you can have the same physical appearance of the connector on your charger and device, but if they don’t use the same communication protocol, they may not work properly. For example, charging speed may be affected. By requiring all devices to use the USB Power Delivery protocol, we want to ensure full compatibility of chargers and devices.

“By requiring all devices to use the USB Power Delivery protocol, we want to ensure full compatibility of chargers and devices.”

In the proposed legislation, we also address the separation of the sale of the devices themselves from the chargers. By design, we are also trying to get manufacturers to offer their products without a charger. Of course, if they wanted, they would be able to offer devices with a charger, as long as the same product was on sale without a charger. This will allow consumers to decide whether to buy the device with or without a charger.

At the same time, we propose certain rules in the legislation regarding consumer information. Manufacturers will need to provide information, for example, about the charging specifications of their devices. They will have to select the charging strength and the supported communication protocol, i.e. whether it can be charged quickly or not.

One of the proposal’s goals is also the coordination of shipping technologies. How do you imagine what this would mean in practice?

This is the definition of the communication protocol between the charger and the device. We want to achieve full compatibility in the first place. I will give an example. If the device can be charged quickly using a special charger made by the same manufacturer of the same device, then it should be possible to charge quickly using any other charger at the same time. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve by creating USB Power Delivery as a common communication protocol. Therefore, the device must be rechargeable by any charger that supports the USB Power Delivery Protocol.

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Some manufacturers today do not use the USB Power Delivery protocol in their fast charging technologies. Do you think you will be able to force them to start using it?

If our proposal is adopted as presented, then yes. Then USB Power Delivery support will become a condition for selling the product in the European market.

Don’t you think this can slow down technological development?

We do not prohibit the use of other communication protocols when charging. However, we say that if the device can be charged quickly, then USB power delivery should be supported. At the same time, the proposal provides for the possibility of the European Commission updating individual standards. Therefore, we do not believe that we will hinder innovation in any way. Our goal is to make it easier for consumers to use their devices so that they can use one charger for several different devices without having to buy their own for each.

Changes will not come immediately, a transition period is planned

Can consumer electronics manufacturers use the USB Type-C connector for free, or do they have to pay any licensing fees to patent holders?

It’s open source, so there are no licensing fees.

So, should this upcoming legislation not affect the prices of electronics for European consumers?

We don’t know why manufacturers don’t use USB Type C devices in their devices yet. They will not have to pay to use the specifications of this connector, but in some cases they will have to change the design of their products.

However, it must be said that USB Type C is already used in many devices today and the development in the market is towards the fact that this connector will be used more and more. There will still be some product categories or some manufacturers that have decided not to use USB Type C. Then they will have to adapt their products. We can’t predict now whether these companies will decide to pass their costs (associated with product customization, note) to customers.

However, it must also be borne in mind that there will be a certain transition period. Already today, manufacturers can take into account new requirements when preparing new models. If they did, the costs would be lower.

At the same time, from the point of view of the consumer, the number of chargers that can be purchased will be much less than today, which will lead to savings. These savings will outweigh any potential increase in the price of the electronics themselves.

“From a consumer point of view, the number of chargers that can be purchased will be much lower than today, which will lead to savings. These savings will outweigh any potential price increase for the electronics themselves.”

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Why doesn’t your design specify any technical specifications for wireless charging?

We conducted a special study on wireless charging, and concluded that wireless charging technologies are still developing and the level of market “segmentation” is very low. When you consider these two conclusions, there is no need for regulation at the moment. However, part of our proposal is also to strengthen the efficiencies of the European Commission, which, when necessary, will also make it possible to develop specifications for wireless charging.

Don’t you think manufacturers will start using wireless charging as the only way to charge their devices instead of using Type C USB?

For some products, some manufacturers may have an incentive to switch exclusively to wireless charging. But we think there are several factors at play here that we can’t predict right now. And as I said, if we see more fragmentation in wireless charging, we can intervene.

When the European Commission made this proposal, it also advocated positive environmental impacts. However, it is known that using wireless charging consumes more power than cable charging, and there are greater losses. Aren’t you concerned that this regulation is counterproductive and has negative environmental impacts?

We do not expect that as a result of our design wireless charging will develop faster or otherwise than if we had not set up such a design. At the same time, we do not specify exactly individual technologies in the proposal, because we know that energy efficiency is really a challenge and manufacturers can offer innovative solutions in this area.

“We do not expect that, as a result of our design, wireless charging will evolve faster or otherwise than if we had not set up such a design.”

When do you expect your proposal to be approved and put into effect?

This will largely depend on the speed of negotiations between the various competent institutions. Then, starting from the adoption of the final legislation in the European Parliament and the European Council, member states will have two years to convert these rules into their domestic legislation, followed by another year of transition for manufacturers to adapt to them. But I see support for this proposal and I suppose it could go fairly quickly.

Have you noticed any feedback from consumer electronics manufacturers?

We listen to the opinions of the electronics producers and listen to them at the time of preparing the proposal. Their biggest concern was that such regulation could hinder innovation. That is why we have prepared the proposal so that it defines only the requirements necessary to ensure full compatibility, does not prohibit the use of other solutions and at the same time includes a mechanism for simply updating technical requirements if necessary.

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