Universal charger for Asian mobile users?

Manufacturers will likely introduce handsets that support one-fits-all chargers in Asia, following European Commission accord on universal chargers, analyst says.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

Asian consumers will also stand to gain from an agreement inked between handset makers and the European Commission (EC) to develop a universal phone charger, since mobile manufacturers will subsequently extend the capability to Asia, too.

Marc Einstein, industry manager at Frost & Sullivan, told ZDNet Asia that as several large global vendors are involved in the EC project, these devices will appear in Asian markets soon after.

Seven mobile phone vendors--Apple, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Research In Motion (RIM), Samsung and Sony Ericsson--last month signed an agreement to sell phones in the European Union that support universal chargers. Chipset makers such as NEC, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, have also pledged to be part of the deal.

Under the agreement, handset manufacturers will build devices that can be charged via micro-USB connections, Gregory Wade, RIM's Asia-Pacific regional vice president, said in an e-mail.

Einsten noted that consumers in Asia can benefit from the added convenience if a similar agreement was inked in the region.

"Battery power has become an increasingly important issue since the rise of smartphone sales because, while these devices offer a wide range of new features, they also consume more power," he said.

He added that mobile phone manufacturers will no longer need to bundle every handset with a charger, which in turn, will help reduce waste and improve economies of scale. "This can lower costs in the long run," he said.

Wade noted that a standardized charger will also allow consumers to retain and reuse their chargers even when they change or upgrade their devices.

"We definitely hope that a similar concept…would take off...in the rest of the world," he said, adding that the universal charger will open up vast new possibilities for smartphone accessories.

"Accessory makers will now have a larger potential market to work with, but more importantly, consumers will be able to enjoy a wider variety of choices when it comes to purchasing accessories for their mobile devices," Wade said.

Asia no clout?
According to Einstein, while the EC has been able to regulate other measures such as roaming and interconnection rates, Asian trade blocs do not have the same clout that the EC carries.

"So, we would expect market-driven initiatives only [from Asian trade bodies]."

Bo H. Choi, head of mobile communications marketing, LG Electronics Asia, proposed that phone makers could take the lead and initiate a similar concerted effort in Asia.

"[This] will help accelerate consensus toward that standard if it makes market sense, and if it ultimately benefits the consumer," Choi said in an e-mail. The executive is also the Asia regional business leader of LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company.

Until then, Einsten said some Asian markets are dealing with the power issue in other ways. Mobile users in Hong Kong, for instance, can recharge their batteries at convenience stores, while mobile phone battery charging machines are common in Japan.

Wade said RIM introduced the universal charger in Asia this year with the launch of its BlackBerry Curve 8900, BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 and BlackBerry Storm smartphones.

An LG spokesperson said its phones in the United States already adopted the universal charger a year ago. LG GD900 Crystal, which incorporates the micro-USB connector, is scheduled for launch in Asia in the third or fourth quarter of 2009.

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