Why phone charger technology is such a big global problem

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Technology

Why phone charger technology is such a big global problem


Mobile phone charger. FILE PHOTO | NMG

By 2024, USB Type-C will be the standard charging connector for all cell phones, tablets and cameras in the European Union, and laptops will have to meet the same criteria 16 months later.

This is in line with the preliminary agreement on the amended Radio Equipment Directive, which is to be formalized by the European Parliament and the Council.

Chargers have many negative consequences on the environment. Each charger requires the use of raw materials, as well as the manufacture and transport of these resources, which emit CO2. When chargers are no longer used, they generate electronic waste.

Portable device chargers are estimated to generate approximately 39,000 tonnes of electronic waste. Additionally, chargers are frequently thrown away or stored in drawers rather than being properly recycled or reused.

As a result, the legislation is part of a wider EU initiative to make EU products more sustainable, reduce e-waste and encourage green and digital transitions while making life easier for customers.

Interoperability

A charging solution is made up of three main elements: the external power supply (EPS), a set of cables connecting the EPS to the device, and the battery included in the device. These three parts must be compatible for a gadget to charge.

And because interoperability depends on the cooperation of all the aforementioned aspects, the European Commission – the executive branch of the European Union – is proposing a unified charging connector for electronic devices that allows users to charge their gadgets with the same USB-C charger regardless of device brand; a synchronized fast charging technique to help prevent different manufacturers from unduly limiting charging speeds and to ensure that charging speeds are consistent; Decouple the sale of a charger from the sale of an electronic device, allowing consumers to buy a new electronic item without having to buy a new charger, reducing the number of unwanted chargers purchased or not used; and finally better informing customers about the charging performance, the power required by the gadget and whether it allows fast charging.

This will make it easy for customers to determine if their current chargers are compatible with their new device or to find a suitable charger.

Proprietary Considerations

Since Android-based devices already use the new standard, the change will have a significant impact on Apple’s iPhones, which use a lightning cord. Headphones, video game consoles and e-readers are among the other items that will be covered by the new rule, which would certainly affect other companies such as Huawei and Samsung.

Indeed, a standardized interface is necessary, but it should not be accompanied by compliance with mandatory standards.

Compliance with standards leads to losses and in many cases stifles innovation: for example, what will happen in five years if someone wants to use a better connector? What about the efforts to innovate towards the total abolition of charging ports using the innovative magnetic contact chargers?

Is the EU solving non-existent problems with bravado, and ignoring or bungling existential problems? Moreover, in this matrix, the less talk about free market capitalism, the better.

Additionally, Apple’s proprietary lighting connector and cord generate significant revenue for the company.

However, the mandate puts Apple in a difficult position, as it must reinvent; it means losing revenue from unexpired patents; allocate more resources to research and development in order to develop new patents; possible license fees to the owner of the USB-C charger; potential brand dilution; and who bears these costs?

It is therefore difficult to see how such a regulation would help consumers when it prohibits certain concepts.

Given the importance of consumer benefits in policy evaluation, the project is unlikely to result in a favorable socio-economic outcome.

Even well-intentioned policies carry the danger of having serious unintended consequences due to inhibited or delayed innovation.

This is equivalent to forcing Netflix to provide VCR screening alongside streaming. Hence, it takes the battle between innovators and legislators to the next level.

Mr. Mutuku is an expert in data compliance and intellectual property law

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