Universal phone charger offers vast opportunities

Manufacturers pledge support for new standard in mobile phone charger, which GSM Association says will give rise to product and retail innovation in mobile market.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

A new standard for mobile phone chargers will bring about innovation in this space, according to the GSM Association (GSMA).

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last week approved the Universal Charging Solution (UCS) standard that, if supported, will allow mobile device battery chargers to be used on any phone.

The phone charger standard, which was built upon an agreement by the European Commission and mobile device manufacturers, is also backed by U.S. wireless trade association CTIA.

The GSMA, which has been involved in the standard, believes the UCS will lead to a 50 percent reduction in standby energy consumption of mobile chargers, as well as potentially eliminate up to 51,000 tons of excess hardware.

In an e-mail response to ZDNet Asia, a GSMA spokesperson noted that mobile devices will have to incorporate a list of features before they can be UCS-compliant. This includes, but is not limited to, the micro-USB standard.

"We anticipate that UCS will provide for both product and retail innovations in the charger market," the spokesperson said, adding that this could mean handsets are sold without a charger or that chargers may be equipped with different features.

Aloysius Choong, research manager of personal systems group at IDC Asia-Pacific, said he expects UCS-compliant mobile phone chargers to initially be included with all mobile device purchases. However, over the longer term, unbundling of chargers will be "both a natural and desired outcome of market forces".

"Savings [from the] unbundling will come from material costs, with a universal solution increasing economies of scale, especially for smaller phone makers," Choong noted in an e-mail. "Just as importantly, the smaller sales package will reduce the cost of warehousing, transport and retail storage."

According to the analyst, unbundling will be initiated first in the higher-end segments where consumers may already own multiple electronic devices. For lower-price models, manufacturers are likely to persist in bundling chargers "due to the higher percentage of first-time users and lengthier replacement cycles".

Manufacturers reiterate support
While it is not compulsory for mobile device manufacturers to adopt the new standard, a number are already planning to ensure their mobiles work with the common charger by 2012, if not earlier.

BlackBerry maker, Research In Motion (RIM), said it introduced micro-USB technology for all its smartphones from January 2009. Models such as the BlackBerry Curve 8520 and BlackBerry Storm are based on micro-USB, a Singapore-based spokesperson said in an e-mail.

"We embrace the introduction of universal phone chargers as this opens up vast opportunities for manufacturers of smartphones and smartphone accessories alike," the RIM spokesperson added.

Aldo Liguori, spokesperson for Sony Ericsson, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the company plans to launch the universal charger globally in the first half of 2010, which will be included with new products as these become commercially available.

Over at Nokia, the handset manufacturer intends to make the majority of its devices compatible with UCS chargers, "as well as the existing Nokia 2mm standard", said Francis Cheong, its environmental affairs manager for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

"The common charging solution will use a micro-USB connector, and this is something we are increasingly using in devices for data transfer. So we will naturally see a smoother transition to micro-USB charging," Cheong explained in an e-mail. "Many of our newer devices like the Nokia N97 mini, Nokia N97 and Nokia N86 8MP are already using [the] micro-USB charging [option].

"We will progressively introduce compatible phones in the years leading up to this date," he added.

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