Last week, European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Antonio Tajani, stated that more than 95% of the new models of data-enabled mobile phones placed on the EU market by Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signatories during the first half of 2012 offer the common charging capability.
For consumers this means that the latest smartphones can be charged using any of the chargers provided by the fourteen signatories of the 2009 MoU. The MoU achieved one important objective: it fixed market fragmentation by replacing mobile phone chargers that could often only be used to charge a specific brand or model, and which became obsolete as new models entered the market.
Three years ago, the MoU set out to provide interoperable charger solutions throughout Europe. The underlying technical specification that effectively delivers interoperability is a European standard that was agreed in 2010 and was based on the common charging capability of a Micro-USB interface.
In parallel to the MoU, an increasing number of manufacturers have decided to use Micro-B USB connectors and sockets in their smartphones – a clear choice based on their commitment to implement the micro-USB requirements of the 2010 standard. This choice, however, is a commercial one. Manufacturers may decide to use an adapter to connect a Micro-USB plug to a proprietary socket in the mobile phone. This decision is simply another technical solution but one that still achieves interoperability.
Recent criticism from some European consumer organisations and Members of the European Parliament suggest the MoU is inefficient. They claim that mobile phones sold in Europe should exclusively use Micro-USB sockets. But, critics are missing the point of the MoU – it enabled an important transformation and also demonstrated industry’s self-commitment over the last two to three years, which has achieved measurable and important positive steps in ensuring interoperability.
A single EU-wide mobile phone socket would not, on its own, achieve interoperability. It would hinder innovation and limit manufacturers’ ability to release better technologies into the market. As technology evolves at a frenzied rate, new and improved mobile phone sockets and connectors are also being developed and improved upon. An obligation to commit to one socket and connector would stop this and limit their functionalities as technology improves.
It is important to remember that today’s smartphones use multi-use cables that are detachable from the external power supply, providing additional functionalities that enable high-speed data transfer and simultaneous charging.
Therefore, a common European socket in mobile phones will not provide additional value for consumers when charging their smartphones beyond the high level of interoperability achieved by the MoU.
This blog was penned by Klaus-Dieter Axt, Director Public Policy, DIGITALEUROPE