USB-C Connector

European Commission wants to make USB-C ports mandatory

This could be a huge setback for Apple, which has been using its proprietary Lightning connector on the iPhone for years.

The European Commission wants to make it mandatory for smartphone manufacturers and manufacturers of other electronics to include a USB-C charging port on their devices and is putting forward legislation to establish a common charging solution for all relevant devices.

This could be a huge setback for Apple, which has been using its proprietary Lightning connector on the iPhone for years.

At the same time, it is not going to impact other brands as much, because nearly every Android phone today has a USB-C port. The motive behind this plan is to reduce electronic waste by giving people an option to re-use their existing chargers and cables for any phone, including the iPhone.

Apple uses the USB-C port on the MacBook and iPad, but its iPhone still uses the Lightning connector. There has been a huge criticism against Apple for not giving users a choice in how they want to charge their devices. But with the new rules in Europe, Apple may be forced to change the charging mechanism of the iPhone.

The proposal wants a revised Radio Equipment Directive, where the charging port and fast charging technology will be harmonised: USB-C will become the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles. In addition, the Commission proposes to unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices.

The Commission’s rules will also force manufacturers to make their charging technologies interoperable. This means that brand A’s fast charger should be able to charge the phone of brand B at the same speed. Manufacturers will also be required to provide the customers with adequate information about what charging standards their devices and chargers support.

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, said: 

“European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers. We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger. This is an important win for our consumers and environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions.”

The Commission is proposing the following:

  • A harmonised charging port for electronic devices: USB-C will be the common port. This will allow consumers to charge their devices with the same USB-C charger, regardless of the device brand.
  • Harmonised fast charging technology will help prevent that different producers unjustifiably limit the charging speed and will help to ensure that charging speed is the same when using any compatible charger for a device.
  • Unbundling the sale of a charger from the sale of the electronic device: consumers will be able to purchase a new electronic device without a new charger. This will limit the number of unwanted chargers purchased or left unused. Reducing production and disposal of new chargers is estimated to reduce the amount of electronic waste by almost a thousand tonnes’ yearly.
  • Improved information for consumers: producers will need to provide relevant information about charging performance, including information on the power required by the device and if it supports fast charging. This will make it easier for consumers to see if their existing chargers meet the requirements of their new device or help them to select a compatible charger. Combined with the other measures, this would help consumers limit the number of new chargers purchased and help them save €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases.

The revision of the Radio Equipment Directive is part the Commission’s broader action to address the sustainability of products,  in particular electronics on the EU market, which will be the focus of a forthcoming proposal on sustainable products.

The proposal for a revised Radio Equipment Directive will now need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council by ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision). A transition period of 24 months from the date of adoption will give industry ample time to adapt before the entry into application.

To ultimately have a common charger, full interoperability is required on both sides of the cable: the electronic device and the external power supply. The interoperability on the device end, which is by far the bigger challenge, will be achieved by this proposal. The interoperability of the external power supply will be addressed by the review of the Commission’s Ecodesign Regulation. This will be launched later this year so that its entry into force can be aligned with today’s proposal.

Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the Internal Market, said: 

“Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices. With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not necessary. We are putting an end to that.

With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics – an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste.”

Apple was the first company to remove the charger from the retail box, citing the same reason that it will protect the environment. Now, many other brands, such as Samsung, do not ship the charger. While that goes in favour of the environment, it is against the choice the customers should have when buying a new phone. The EU’s new rules will ensure customers ditch the charger on their own.

“We share the European Commission’s commitment to protecting the environment and are already carbon neutral for all of our corporate emissions worldwide,” an Apple spokesperson said.

“We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world.

We look forward to continued engagement with stakeholders to help find a solution that protects consumer interest, as well as the industry’s ability to innovate and bring exciting new technology to users.”

With the exception of the iPhone, nearly all premium Android phones come with a USB-C connector. However, low-end phones from companies such as Samsung, Huawei, and Oppo still pack MicroUSB ports, and so the ruling will need those ports replaced with USB-C ports.

The European Commission’s ruling is also applicable to devices such as tablets, cameras, headphones, speakers, and handheld gaming consoles in Europe, except the UK of course.

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