Law in the Internet Society

A Proposal for Common Charger: A European Approach

-- By PulawitWanichsetakul - 22 Oct 2021


In September 2021, the European Commission (“EC”) presented a proposal to mandate a common charging solution across the European Union (“EU”) Member States. Although the plan seems to target certain companies holding proprietary charging solution rather than to pursue consumer convenience and reduction of electronic waste (“e-waste”) as per its objectives, and its scope is limited to certain types of equipment, unbundling effect that comes with it is instrumental to achieve more interoperability. The adoption of a common and royalty-free standard across the market will enable individuals to have access to a more affordable equipment and work to create a market with less network effects. This shows how standardisation based on free technology supports freer digital society and why we should promote it.

The Proposal

On September 23, 2021, the EC announced its plan for a common charger for electronic devices. It introduced a proposal for amending Directive 2014/53/EU on the harmonisation of the laws of the Member States relating to the making available on the market of radio equipment (“Radio Equipment Directive”). In essence, the proposal requires EU Member States to adopt a common charging interface and charging communication protocol for items of radio equipment listed in its proposed annex to the Directive. The list of items includes mainly mobile phones and similar categories or classes of radio equipment including inter alia tablets, digital cameras, and portable speakers. The EC proposed the USB Type-C as a common standard for charging interface. The proposal requires mobile phones and similar devices to be equipped with the USB Type-C receptacle when devices can be recharged via wired charging so that they can be recharged by using a common charging receptacle. The proposal goes further by requiring economic operators (be it manufacturers or distributors) to provide options for end-users to purchase new radio equipment with or without new charging device so that end-users will not be required by the operators to buy new charging device and/or cable every time they buy a new radio equipment. As regards a plan for common charging communication protocol, on the other hand, if radio devices require charging at voltages higher than 5 volts or currents higher than 3 amperes or powers higher than 15 watts, the radio devices are required to incorporate the USB Power Delivery charging communication protocol. In this regard, the plan will also require operators to provide necessary information regarding radio equipment’s charging performance characteristics and compatible charging device to end-users. However, the proposal did not put any technical requirements regarding wireless charging as it is noted by the EC that wireless charging is still a developing technology. As regards implementation, EU Member States will have a timeframe to transpose the proposed amendments to its national legislation or regulation. The implementation will also be subject to monitoring, evaluation and reporting systems. Manufacturers will also have a choice to follow its internal product control procedure to demonstrate compliance with new requirements.

The Development

This proposal, in fact, is not a new plan introduced by the EC. The EC has been working to harmonise the charging port as well as charging technology to reduce fragmentation of the market for charging interfaces for mobile phones and similar devices for more than 10 years. In June 2009, the EC started its effort by arranging a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) regarding harmonisation of a charging capability for mobile phones signed by major producers of mobile phones. The signatories agreed to adopt the USB 2.0 micro-B interface as a common charging standard to ensure full charging compatibility in mobile phones market. According to studies by the EC, the 2009 MOU was effective to a great extent as it reduced the number of mobile phone chargers from 30 to 3 within a decade. However, as the MOU is voluntary not mandatory, the EC noted that it cannot achieve full interoperability since other proprietary or vendor-specific charging interfaces can still be used by manufacturers. The said situation thus created fragmentation of charging interfaces and charging communication protocols. After the expiration of the MOU in 2014, the introduction of legislative measures like this proposal thus aims to ensure consumer benefits. On the other hand, businesses might say that this kind of mandate will undermine innovation and the proposal may be seen as confrontation between the EU and manufacturers who promote certain types of charging solution.

What it promotes?

Interoperability: What is instrumental?

Interoperability, which the EU has been working to achieve, is used in various contexts in digital ecosystem. The term protocol interoperability is used when two systems can fully work together and that complementary services can be provided. In the context of digital platform, it can be either a situation when complementary services are interoperable with an operating system or are interoperable among themselves. Interoperability between mobile phones and charger is another example of this term. Protocol interoperability then allows data interoperability to exist, where a service has real-time access to data subject’s data in another service. The term full protocol interoperability, on the other hand, is used when two or more substitute services can interoperate, for example, interconnection between telecommunication networks. There are thus multiple dimensions of interoperability. But one common thing is the existence of a standard on which two devices, services, or systems can interoperate. For a common charging solution, USB has been promoted by the EC as the standard since the 2009 MOU. One of the key attributes of the USB, which is instrumental for a huge reduction of chargers in the EU in last decade, is that the technology is royalty-free and thus can be used or further developed by anyone. The standard setting organization in an industry is thus important in promoting interoperability.


While the proposal will have to undergo scrutiny by the European Parliament before it can be effective, the approach used by the EU is noteworthy. If we aim for a free or freer movement in digital economy, interoperability in all components of digital ecosystem should be facilitated and a common industry standard that can be accessed by everyone can be a determinant to success.

The draft would be better if it gave one solid reason in the fist sentence why the reader should care. If the reader thinks it is facially absurd for the European Commission to interfere in product designs and standardization efforts, as at least this reader does, surely you can give a serious reason for the reader to reconsider her position? If this looks like threadbare political nonsense designed to convince European citizens that the Commission and the Parliament are working in the interests of citizens in a digital society while actually doing nothing more than beating up on Apple, what have you said in this draft that will counter that impression? E-waste is tablets thrown away and snartassphones subjected to the planned obsolescence upgrade cycle. Chargers are an infinitesimal contribution, lack toxic components, and are esaliy adapted to new uses by post-market cable replacements.

Hardware standardization doesn't require government intervention when it is economically rational. No government needed to tell old Nokia that it should limit charger design churn: it produced hundreds of models around the world using, in the course of its history, one of two charger designs for almost all of its models globally.

I propose that this is a piece of flimflam designed to substitute for the politically far more difficult task of securing repairabaility legislation (which would adversely affect actual European manufacturers). I could certainly be wrong, but to improve, the draft should deal with the skeptical reception it will get from readers who think as I do.

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r3 - 31 Dec 2021 - 22:10:41 - PulawitWanichsetakul
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