USB-C as a uniform standard for charging cable is coming in Europe

[German]The next hurdle to make the USB-C standard as mandatory for charging cables for mobile devices in Europe has cleared – and the standard can probably come soon (Summer 2024). The Committee for the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) of the EU Parliament has approved the corresponding draft resolution. Now it only needs the approval of the EU parliament and the member states so that the whole thing will then be considered mandatory (possibly from the summer). Apple could then emerge as the biggest loser from this story.


A long story

The European Union and the EU Commission have been working for a long time to limit the proliferation of charging cables for smartphones and mobile devices and to persuade manufacturers to adopt a universal solution. I took a look in my German blog, in 2013 (see Einheitliche EU-Ladeschnittstelle für Smartphones & Tablets). Back in 2011 there was a voluntary commitment by smartphone manufacturers and importers, for a unified charging interface for cables.  

MicroUSB interface on smartphone

The memorandum of understanding in question was even signed by manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung and Nokia back in 2009, after pressure from the EU. However, the whole thing didn't really lasts – in April 2013, I mentioned that smartphone manufacturers don't want to extend the voluntary commitment for a uniform charging interface (see my German blog post Sauerei! Smartphone-Hersteller torpedieren einheitliche Ladeschnittstelle). In 2014, the EU Parliament then gave the "green light" for a uniform charging interface. The parliament's decision at the time: From 2017, the charging interface of various mobile devices must be standardized, although the EU directive does not specify any technical requirements as to what this interface must look like. Apple was the only one to fry its own boots, with a dock and Lightning interface for many of its devices. 

Next step: USB-C becomes mandatory

In September 2021, the EU Commission drew a sobering conclusion: despite years of work with industry on a voluntary approach that has led to a reduction of the multitude of chargers from 30 to three types over the last ten years, a complete solution could not be found

USB-C interface on smartphone
USB-C interface on smartphone, Source: own image


At the same time, the EU Commission's proposal for a revised Radio Equipment Directive was presented. There, the charging port and fast charging technology will be harmonized: :

  • USB-C (see photo above) will be declared the standard connector for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and portable video game consoles in this proposal.
  • In addition, the Commission's draft proposes to unbundle the sale of chargers and electronic devices.

I had reported on this in the blog post European Commission proposes a common charger for electronic devices. The Commission's proposal then went to the European Parliament as a revised directive, since the Parliament has to approve it. That approval has probably been given, I understand from a communication dated April 21, 2022. 

Committee approves proposal

On April 20, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee adopted its position on the revised Radio Equipment Directive by 43 votes in favor (2 against). The new rules are designed to ensure that consumers no longer need a new charger and cable every time they buy a new device. Instead, a single charger and standardized charging cable should be able to be used for all small and medium-sized electronic devices.

Specifically, this means that cell phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, portable video game consoles and portable speakers that can be charged via a cable would have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port, regardless of the manufacturer. Exceptions would only apply to devices that are too small to have a USB Type-C port, such as smartwatches, health trackers and some sports equipment.

This revision is part of the EU's broader efforts to improve the sustainability of products, especially electronic devices on the EU market, and to reduce e-waste. Currently, half a billion portable device chargers are shipped in Europe each year, generating 11,000 to 13,000 tons of e-waste. A unified charging interface for cell phones and other small and medium electronic devices would help consumers and the environment and reduce costs.

Labeling of devices requested

Members of European Parliament (MEPs) also call for clear information and labeling on new devices about charging options and whether a product includes a charger. With the increasing use of wireless charging, MEPs call for the European Commission to present a strategy by the end of 2026 to ensure a minimum level of interoperability for all new charging solutions (interoperability of wireless charging technologies). 

The aim is to avoid new fragmentation of the market, further reduce pollution, ensure consumer convenience and avoid so-called "lock-in" effects caused by proprietary charging solutions.

What's next

The external power supply for the charging interface is to be standardized with an eco-design directive. With regard to the implementation of the USB-C interface mentioned above, the European Parliament now has to approve the regulation. That is scheduled for May 2022. Once the EU Parliament has approved it, talks with the governments of the EU member states about the final form of the legislation can take place. This could take several months – roughly summer 2024.

Once the directive has passed as a law or regulation, there is to be a transition period of 24 months from the date of adoption to allow industry sufficient time to adjust before it comes into force. So it is a thick board that the EU is drilling there, and from what one hears, the industry (I think especially Apple) has tried to exert influence in advance behind the scenes. However, I think it's about time that something is done and the USB-C interface – whose socket is unidirectional – is mandatory.

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One Response to USB-C as a uniform standard for charging cable is coming in Europe

  1. c't reader says:

    I think, it's really about time that there finally comes a universal charger. But your last sentence at the end of the story isn't quite right:
    "However, I think […] the USB-C interface – whose socket is unidirectional – is mandatory."
    Well, the socket isn't completely unidirectional because there are some manufacturers who do so and integrate the same ports on both sides, but there are many out there who don't do that so that there are heavy differences how I connect it to the device!
    There was an article in the German magazine c't aka about this issue at the end of last year.

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