EU steps up charger battle with Apple

September 26, 2021 // By Nick Flaherty
EU steps up charger battle with Apple
The EU is proposing a standard USB-C charger design for electronic equipment, setting up a showdown with Apple. But the real battle will be over the wall socket charger, writes Nick Flaherty

After three years of encouraging manufacturers, especially Apple, to stop making proprietary phone chargers, the EU is moving to legislation bot the for USB- Cand for charger designs.

This will set up a showdown with Apple which is the only major manufacturer not to use USB-C chargers for its phones. Apple has cited a lack of innnovation as its reason to not standardise on USB-C, even though it does use the technology for its iPad Pro.

“Years of working with industry on a voluntary approach already brought down the number of mobile phone chargers from 30 to 3 within the last decade, but could not deliver a complete solution. The Commission is now putting forward legislation to establish a common charging solution for all relevant devices,” it said.

So the voluntary moves have reduced the number of charging solutions for mobile phones on the market from 30 to 3: USB Power Delivery (USB PD), Qualcomm Quick Charge and Apple. The first two fast charging technologies are open and can be integrated into controllers in USB-C chargers.

To ultimately have a common charger, full interoperability is required on both sides of the cable: the electronic device and the external power supply. The interoperability on the device end, which is by far the bigger challenge, will be achieved by the legislation but the EU is also looking at the interoperability of the external power supply. This  will be addressed by the review of the Commission's Ecodesign Regulation launched later this year to align with the USB-C regulations.

This highlights the more important path for chargers over the 24 months that the legislation will tak eto be introduced: integration into the wall socket.

Several chip companies, including Power Integrations and Silanna have reference designs under development for a USB-C PD charger that can fit into the existing footprint of a wall socket, This would allow for retrofitting of wall sockets in millions of homes, and so eliminate the need for chargers. This would also see wireless controls and sensors such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors integrated into the socket to make smart homes safer. This is refelct4ed by the recent deal between Amber Solutions and Infineon to use the Cypress USB PD controller, and also means power control companies also need to supply their own digital silicon.

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The proposal for a revised Radio Equipment Directive means the charging port and fast charging technology will be harmonised. USB-C will become the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles. In addition, the Commission proposes to unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices. This will improve consumers' convenience and reduce the environmental footprint associated with the production and disposal of chargers, thereby supporting the green and digital transitions.

“European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers. We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger. This is an important win for our consumers and environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions,” said Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age.

In 2020, approximately 420 million mobile phones and other portable electronic devices were sold in the EU and consumers spent €2.4bn on standalone chargers. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to pile up to 11,000 tonnes of e-waste every year.

Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the Internal Market, set down a direct challenge.

“Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices. With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not necessary. We are putting an end to that,” he said. “With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics – an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste.”

The revised Radio Equipment Directive will now need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. A transition period of 24 months from the date of adoption will give the industry time to adapt.

ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/46755

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