Thursday, September 23rd 2021

EU Commission Pushing Forward with Unified Electronics Charger Standard and Unbundling of Chargers

What can only be called a long running drama, the EU has once again put its foot down when it comes to chargers for various consumer electronics devices, although it's mostly about smartphones and regular old mobile phones these days. The whole thing took off some time in 2009, although back then, it was a voluntary effort and according to today's press release by the EU Commission, we're down from 30 to three "competing" standards (micro USB, lightning and USB-C), but apparently that is still not good enough.

As such, the EU Commission has now decided that USB-C is the answer to their prayers and it'll now be an enforced standard for a wide range of devices if they're to be allowed to be sold in the EU. We doubt this will go down well with many device manufacturers, Apple being the obvious one here, even though the company has been slowly transitioning to USB-C on its tablets, none of its phones are using USB-C today. The following device categories are affected: smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld video game consoles.

It's unclear as to why the device port has to be USB-C, although a move to USB-C cables for everything does make things simpler, but as long as the charger itself uses USB-C, it's hard to understand why the device end must use USB-C. There's nothing inherently wrong with USB-C, but the USB-C standard is a bit of a mess, even for charging and the EU Commission has a very "loose" proposal here where they're pushing for the USB Power Delivery standard to be the only charging standard allowed over USB-C.

Even USB PD isn't a uniform standard and there are at least four major revisions with multiple minor versions. If we assume the EU Commission goes for USB PD 3.1, then we're looking at a pretty future proof standard that can deliver up to 240 W at 48 V, but this would require different cables than what we're using today. However, if USB PD 3.0 is chosen, then anything that needs more than 100 W at 20 V isn't going to work. Admittedly no smartphone in the world is going to need to be charged at 240 W, but the issue with setting standards like this, is that they tend to filter down, or more likely filter out in this case, to other markets and devices, which means that setting the bar too low, isn't good.

It makes even more sense to go for the most advanced standard when the EU Commission also wants to unbundle the chargers, as it means that your USB PD charger can be used to power many other devices that might have different power requirements from your smartphone or tablet. This appears to be one of the goals here, judging by the amount of different devices the EU Commission already set its sight on, but they might even have limited themselves a bit here, since most laptops can and should be charged over USB-C as well. In fact, Apple is pretty much the pioneer here, which also makes their obsession with keeping the lightning connector on their phones a bit counterintuitive.

Where we're not following the EU Commission's logic is where they claim that as many as 38 percent of consumers are said to have experienced problems with their charges due to incompatibility problems. If anything this seems to suggest that most consumers haven't paid attention to what kind of device they own. On the other hand it also seems crazy that consumers in the EU have spent €2.4 billion per year on buying chargers for their electronics, since they apparently don't always come with chargers. Again, this suggests that consumers aren't paying attention to what they're buying and maybe clearer labelling would solve these problems.

Furthermore, the EU Commission claims that some 11,000 tonnes of e-waste is produced annually from chargers and power adapters that are being thrown away, since they're not compatible with newer devices. This problem could be solved to a degree by moving to USB-C, but as mentioned above, the USB PD standard has also evolved over time, so if you have a USB PD 1.0 charger, it might not be compatible with your new USB PD 3.0 device, as at some point the Voltages changed. One thing that is certain is that there's no such thing as future proof electronics, as it's impossible to predict future requirements, but as technology develops and improves, we sometimes move to entirely different standards that are vastly superior to what came before.

In as much as a common charging standard sounds great, we're not going to see universal chargers, regardless of what the EU Commission is hoping for. This comes down to one simple thing, cost. You can get a 30 W USB PD charger for as little as €10 (sticking with the EU here), which is going to be more than good enough for charging most of the devices in the EU Commission's list, but it's unlikely it'll be powerful enough to charge your laptop or even more demanding smartphones and tablets. A "cheap" 100 W USB PD charger on the other hand will set you back at least €40, although they can often charge multiple devices at once and wouldn't have a problem powering a laptop.

The only thing that is certain is that consumers won't be getting that €5 or €10 the currently bundled charger is worth back from the device makers, since we've already seen some companies that have removed the charger from the box, but seemingly didn't lower the price of their devices with an equivalent amount. This doesn't even take into consideration the reduced weight and volume per unit, which would reduce shipping costs for the device manufacturer.

At the end of the day, this is a tricky subject and although the EU does have some very valid points, it would seem that simply requiring that all chargers use a USB-C port and adhere to the USB PD standard would've been enough, it looks like we're going to see a lot more devices use USB-C ports for charging. This isn't a bad thing as such, but it does feel a bit forced, even though there are some underlying reasons behind it. It's not a done deal yet and things may still change before it becomes a legal requirement.

Photo by By Ilya Plekhanov - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46517325
Source: The EU Commission
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100 Comments on EU Commission Pushing Forward with Unified Electronics Charger Standard and Unbundling of Chargers

#1
londiste
It's unclear as to why the device port has to be USB-C, although a move to USB-C cables for everything does make things simpler, but as long as the charger itself uses USB-C, it's hard to understand why the device end must use USB-C.
When a standard is being made, why allow nonstandard things?
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#2
Chaitanya
Unfortunately USB-C is a minefield for consumers to select proper cables from. Too many connectivity and power standards with far too many subpar cables available on market.
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#3
TheLostSwede
londisteWhen a standard is being made, why allow nonstandard things?
Well, because 1. Apple already have their lighting port, which came out before USB-C, but you can get a simple USB-C to lightning cable, so you can still use a USB-C charger with your Apple phone. 2. there are a lot of older devices that don't use USB-C, but where you once again can use a simple mechanical adapter to make them work with a USB-C charger 3. because most laptops don't use USB-C, but you once again can use simple mechanical adapters to make them work with a USB-C charger.
My point was simply that the device end connector is going to be a much harder to win battle than having a common interface on the charger end.

If you want to talk non-standards, talk to the notebook makers, almost every single one of them, have a custom charging connector that almost seem to be made out of spite to make sure you can't use a different charger and sometimes they even use odd Voltages that no other company uses, so you have to to buy a replacement charger from them if it fails.
Personally I have an older Thinkpad X250 with one of those weird square charging plugs from Lenovo that isn't compatible with anything else than their Thinkpad laptops.
This should if anything, be the EU Commission's next battleground.
ChaitanyaUnfortunately USB-C is a minefield for consumers to select proper cables from. Too many connectivity and power standards with far too many subpar cables available on market.
Luckily that tends to be more of a data than charging issue, until you go above 30W. But yes, you're correct, there are a lot of crap cables out there, but the same applied with micro USB cables, of which I have had many more die on me.
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#4
Arpeegee
This article was accompanied with a lot of writer opinion about why enforcing a standard port is bad. It's like saying we shouldn't have moved from two-prong power outlets to three-prong that includes ground because it would be too confusing to the consumer or anti-construction business.

Standards of course will need to be set for the chargers themselves and I'm sure it would be a simple task to update the standard as things progress in the future. It would be better for all humanity in the long run if we can all use the same USB-C outlets regardless of country to charge our devices.

If anyone is to blame for this enforcement by the EU it's Apple for not wanting to let go of their proprietary cash cow lightning port, and the sheeple that buy said devices.

*Edit - I also forgot to mention that the devices having USB-C port is also a plus to prevent manufactuing wasteful "conversion cables" as Apple currently does and, as others mentioned, laptop manufacturers.
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#5
TheLostSwede
ArpeegeeThis article was accompanied with a lot of writer opinion about why enforcing a standard port is bad. It's like saying we shouldn't have moved from two-prong power outlets to three-prong that includes ground because it would be too confusing to the consumer or anti-construction business.

Standards of course will need to be set for the chargers themselves and I'm sure it would be a simple task to update the standard as things progress in the future. It would be better for all humanity in the long run if we can all use the same USB-C outlets regardless of country to charge our devices.

If anyone is to blame for this enforcement by the EU it's Apple for not wanting to let go of their proprietary cash cow lightning port, and the sheeple that buy said devices.

*Edit - I also forgot to mention that the devices having USB-C port is also a plus to prevent manufactuing wasteful "conversion cables" as Apple currently does and, as others mentioned, laptop manufacturers.
A lot? Yes, there were some opinion, but I'm by no means against USB-C as such, but the current proposal seems to be a bit too open and it's unclear on which USB PD specification the EU will base its new laws and regulations on. If this is going to happen, it's important to be clear what it coming, instead of simply using partial terminology for something that is available in several very different revisions that in some cases aren't even forward compatible.

If you knew me at all, you'd know I'm very much for standards, but USB-C is still a total, utter mess that is just getting more and more things tacked on to it.
Let's focusing on charging. If you want to charge a device that needs more than 30 W, you need to use a different type of cable, as regular USB-C cables can't handle the current/Voltage combination at higher Wattages. How many consumers do you think are aware of this? This is also why Apple supplies a special charging cable with it's notebooks, that only supports USB 2.0 data speeds.

USB Power Delivery is already an established standard, but as I mentioned, it has four major and many minor revisions and nowhere does the EU Commission point out which one they're planning to implement.

Outside of Apple, many, many, many devices still use micro USB for power, lest not a lot of budget smartphones and "dumb" phones, as it's a much cheaper connector and cable.

I was the one mentioning the laptops ;)

Then there's this.


xkcd.com/927/
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#6
Flanker
Yeah and a billion different fast charging protocols. At least with type-c they still charge, just slower. It's a start
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#7
TheLostSwede
FlankerYeah and a billion different fast charging protocols. At least with type-c they still charge, just slower. It's a start
Yeah, USB PD is obviously meant to be a universal standard here, but it might not always be the case, especially with regards to the more exotic charging standards out there.
It's actually possible that some devices will revert back to some really basic charging standard, either 5V 500mA or 900-1,000mA if it doesn't recognise the chargers "mode".
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#8
Shihabyooo
TheLostSwedeUSB Power Delivery is already an established standard, but as I mentioned, it has four major and many minor revisions and nowhere does the EU Commission point out which one they're planning to implement.
Why is this a problem? Even if it had a thousand revisions, once one is picked out, it will become the de jure USB-PD standard for everything sold moving forward. One could even say this would be an effective way to clean up USB-IF's mess.

Adopting standards isn't meant to to affect things that were, rather things to be. Existing, non-USB-C phones will still have the option of getting chargers/converters for their non-standard devices, as long as they hold any significant market share.
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#9
ZeppMan217
TheLostSwedeThen there's this.


xkcd.com/927/
The EU didn't create USB-C. It is also the de facto standard already.
Posted on Reply
#10
TheLostSwede
ShihabyoooWhy is this a problem? Even if it had a thousand revisions, once one is picked out, it will become the de jure USB-PD standard for everything sold moving forward. One could even say this would be an effective way to clean up USB-IF's mess.

Adopting standards isn't meant to to affect things that were, rather things to be. Existing, non-USB-C phones will still have the option of getting chargers/converters for their non-standard devices, as long as they hold any significant market share.
It's a problem because it's an evolving standards and it'll most likely continue to evolve for the foreseeable future.
One problem as an example, is that version 1.0 (revision 1.0 through 1.3) had a 12V implementation that was removed in version 2.0, which added a 9 and 15V implementation instead.
Now your 12V device can no longer use USB PD.

So far the 9 and 15V implementations have stuck around, in addition to the original 5 and 20V, but version 3.1 added 28, 36 and 48V. So far I'm not aware of any charger that supports USB PD 3.1.
If the EU bets on USB PD 3.0, more demanding devices like high-end laptops might not end up being part of the "universal charging revolution" just because a government agency bet on something that was already old by the time they settled on a standard.
If they bet on the older USB PD 2.0 version, then device that use Qualcomms Quick Charge standard won't be able to benefit from fast charging, but the standard is compatible with USB PD 3.0.

Since it's not clear which USB PD standard the EU is going for, it's impossible to know what will be working well and what won't be. If you can't see the problem, well, then I can't help.
ZeppMan217The EU didn't create USB-C. It is also the de facto standard already.
The issue isn't the physical connector, but rather the USB PD standard. See above.
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#11
Shihabyooo
And this "evolution" would be meaningless if not sanctioned by the law. Broad compatibility is a central pillar for this decision, an update to the standard that breaks said compatibility obviously would go against it. Breaking backwards compatibility a la removal of 12v support is one thing such a decision should prevent, instead of leaving things to the whims of USB-IF engineers.

And again, adopting a standard isn't meant to change the past. For your example, adopting 1.0 will not magically make all existing 2.0 phones unusable. There are tonnes of chargers and cables out there for their owners to buy and use and they will remain so even after the regulation comes into effect (for a while, at least). The only thing that would change is that consumers won't -easily- find are non-v1.0 phones on sale.
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#12
Bomby569
i'm all for it, don't care about the details as long as it works as a standard. Enough e-waste
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#13
TheLostSwede
ShihabyoooAnd this "evolution" would be meaningless if not sanctioned by the law. Broad compatibility is a central pillar for this decision, an update to the standard that breaks said compatibility obviously would go against it. Breaking backwards compatibility a la removal of 12v support is one thing such a decision should prevent, instead of leaving things to the whims of USB-IF engineers.

And again, adopting a standard isn't meant to change the past. For your example, adopting 1.0 will not magically make all existing 2.0 phones unusable. There are tonnes of chargers and cables out there for their owners to buy and use and they will remain so even after the regulation comes into effect (for a while, at least). The only thing that would change is that consumers won't -easily- find are non-v1.0 phones on sale.
Let's hope the bureaucrats in charge of this know enough about tech to make a sensible choice, as this is something that they can't easily fix without landing themselves in a mess.
There definitely needs to be some outside oversight into how the USB PD spec will develop, since right now, it's a comparatively small group of people that seems to be in charge of it. If it's set to become a truly "universal" charging standard, then Microsoft, Apple, Intel, HP, Renesas, ST and TI can't be the major players driving the standard. Admittedly there are some 1,100+ other members in the USB-IF, but the EU Commission isn't one of them for example. Most are actually smaller companies out of the PRC that makes cables and accessories, simply because they have to, to be able the use the USB logo on their products.
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#14
TheUn4seen
This is an opinion piece in no small part based on the very misled premise that consumers know or care to know about standards. No, "clearer labeling" will not solve the problem of consumers not knowing which charger or cable they need. You know what "USB-C" means to the average consumer? Roughly the same as "microUSB", which is absolutely nothing, just random letters on a box. You people live in your tech bubble and assume that people know certain things, but they don't, they just want to charge their thing and if the cable they used with their old phone doesn't fit their new one, they just get frustrated and buy a new charger when they could have just used a new cable.
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#15
TheLostSwede
TheUn4seenThis is an opinion piece in no small part based on the very misled premise that consumers know or care to know about standards. No, "clearer labeling" will not solve the problem of consumers not knowing which charger or cable they need. You know what "USB-C" means to the average consumer? Roughly the same as "microUSB", which is absolutely nothing, just random letters on a box. You people live in your tech bubble and assume that people know certain things, but they don't, they just want to charge their thing and if the cable they used with their old phone doesn't fit their new one, they just get frustrated and buy a new charger when they could have just used a new cable.
And you think what the EU Commission has decided is likely to improve things?
I presume you didn't ready any of my comments above. USB PD is another swamp to navigate, if you think people have problems figuring out which end of a USB cable is for what.
I found this and I'm sure there are some missing, especially with regards to USB PD, but it contains most non USB-IF charging standards. It has nothing to do with "living in a tech bubble" it's a reality created by competition in a market that no-one really asked for competition in. It's a total mess, but when bureaucrats steps in and says "this is what we're going to use" and then don't specify which revision and subversion they had in mind of what is already a complete mess of barely compatible standards that use the same connector, it's not going to help the consumer.
Besides, USB PD is an optional part of the USB spec and a device with a USB-C port doesn't have to deliver anything more than 5V and 500mA according to the USB spec. Try charging a modern smartphone on that.


www.digitalcitizen.life/fast-charging-standards/
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#16
Selaya
TheUn4seenThis is an opinion piece in no small part based on the very misled premise that consumers know or care to know about standards. No, "clearer labeling" will not solve the problem of consumers not knowing which charger or cable they need. You know what "USB-C" means to the average consumer? Roughly the same as "microUSB", which is absolutely nothing, just random letters on a box. You people live in your tech bubble and assume that people know certain things, but they don't, they just want to charge their thing and if the cable they used with their old phone doesn't fit their new one, they just get frustrated and buy a new charger when they could have just used a new cable.
That doesn't really make sense. USB-A and USB-C are now so wildly ubiquitous that people with an IQ above freezing temperature will be able to recognise and distinguish them.
Your suggestion's as asinine as, oh shit my new laptop charger uses C6 instead of C14, let's rip out the dry wall and put a new wall socket in to connect it!

(Admittedly buying a new charger would probably actually be smarter, see the above for the 15,363 different revisions of USB-PD, but that is another topic. The point is, your device will still charge. Just at a slower speed. And most people probably would care about just that.)
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#17
TheLostSwede
SelayaThe point is, your device will still charge. Just at a slower speed.
Have you tried charging your phone using a standard USB port that delivers 5V/500mA?
Our car has one such port and it can't keep my phone at the same battery level if I use it for navigation, as the phone draws more power than the port can deliver.
So even if this is true in many circumstances, many modern devices need at least 1A to even start charging.
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#18
Solid State Soul ( SSS )
TheLostSwedeIt's unclear as to why the device port has to be USB-C, although a move to USB-C cables for everything does make things simpler
You answered your own question.
jokes asides usb c is being used in a lot of devices, from computers, to laptops, to game consoles, to handhelds... Making all these use the same standard reduced e wast which is why this law is inforced.
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#19
docnorth
TheLostSwede...that almost seem to be made out of spite to make sure you can't use a different charger and sometimes they even use odd Voltages that no other company uses, so you have to to buy a replacement charger from them if it fails.
For a moment I thought you were talking again about Apple, they are by a huge margin the dirtiest. I still have an old ipad air, the original cable is almost cut-off but works. Two branded lightning cables died after 11 and 14 months respectively (and were replaced under warranty) without any sign of wear. It seems Apple is using some dirty trick even inside the cables, so any unified standard could (?) protect the customers from being milked again and again.
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#20
TheLostSwede
docnorthFor a moment I thought you were talking again about Apple, they are by a huge margin the dirtiest. I still have an old ipad air, the original cable is almost cut-off but works. Two branded lightning cables died after 11 and 14 months respectively (and were replaced under warranty) without any sign of wear. It seems Apple is using some dirty trick even inside the cables, so any unified standard could (?) protect the customers from being milked again and again.
Apple has ID chips in many of their cables, which means you have to buy Apple cables or at least cables from a company Apple sells the ID chips too.
Technically speaking, so does USB-C with PD.
www.eeworldonline.com/designing-a-type-c-electronically-marked-cable-part-1/
Solid State Soul ( SSS )You answered your own question.
jokes asides usb c is being used in a lot of devices, from computers, to laptops, to game consoles, to handhelds... Making all these use the same standard reduced e wast which is why this law is inforced.
Yes, more or less. I'm not opposed to USB-C at all, but it does feel like the EU Commission could've compromised here, but they really do seem to have a bone to pick with Apple...
Not sure if you've read the comments in this thread, as sadly the issue isn't as simple as moving to USB-C with PD. There are still a lot more things that have to be specified before this should become a law. Apparently there will be a two year grace period before everyone has to comply as well.
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#21
thesmokingman
Cannot wait for future threads on why this port or that port is overrated/superior/flawed...
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#22
zlobby
ChaitanyaUnfortunately USB-C is a minefield for consumers to select proper cables from. Too many connectivity and power standards with far too many subpar cables available on market.
Preach!
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#23
TheUn4seen
TheLostSwedeAnd you think what the EU Commission has decided is likely to improve things?
I presume you didn't ready any of my comments above. USB PD is another swamp to navigate, if you think people have problems figuring out which end of a USB cable is for what.
I found this and I'm sure there are some missing, especially with regards to USB PD, but it contains most non USB-IF charging standards. It has nothing to do with "living in a tech bubble" it's a reality created by competition in a market that no-one really asked for competition in. It's a total mess, but when bureaucrats steps in and says "this is what we're going to use" and then don't specify which revision and subversion they had in mind of what is already a complete mess of barely compatible standards that use the same connector, it's not going to help the consumer.
Besides, USB PD is an optional part of the USB spec and a device with a USB-C port doesn't have to deliver anything more than 5V and 500mA according to the USB spec. Try charging a modern smartphone on that.
(...)
Excuse me, I might have been too concise. I absolutely agree that USB is a complete and utter mess, and in order to create a reasonable base for the market the bureaucrats would have to be far more specific.
SelayaThat doesn't really make sense. USB-A and USB-C are now so wildly ubiquitous that people with an IQ above freezing temperature will be able to recognise and distinguish them.
Your suggestion's as asinine as, oh shit my new laptop charger uses C6 instead of C14, let's rip out the dry wall and put a new wall socket in to connect it!

(Admittedly buying a new charger would probably actually be smarter, see the above for the 15,363 different revisions of USB-PD, but that is another topic. The point is, your device will still charge. Just at a slower speed. And most people probably would care about just that.)
First two sentences are exactly what I meant by the "tech bubble" remark. My mother was one of the first handful of people licensed to design the local infrastructure needed for, and later manage maintenance of, MRI machines in the country. I wouldn't say she has a low IQ, but she is occupied with her own things, not USB standards, fast charging standards and such. She just wants to plug in her phone and not wait hours for it to charge on basic 500mA. As TheLostSwede mentioned above, saying "use USB, hurr durr", is just the beginning of creating an actual standard.
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#24
Selaya
But that still wouldn't eliminate the problem (well, eventually I guess) since the average Joe would by no means be able to tell whether their USB charging port complies to the new standard, or not ...
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#25
KarymidoN
apple will probab go Portless before adopting USB-C on the Iphones.
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