One Charging Cable – A Great Idea?

charging cable

The issue of the EU mandating cables is back in the headlines as the EU parliament votes to mandate one standard charger for all phones.

On the surface, what is there not to like? Well, quite a lot actually.

Bureaucrats and politicians interfering in technology innovation is never a good thing, and this is no exception. 

Have we suddenly reached peak cable where no further innovation is necessary? 

There are some reasons for having a universal cable – to reduce e-Waste, extend the life of a charging system and simplify things for consumers.  But, if the result stifles innovation, these small benefits are far outweighed. 

The EU attempted this several years ago when the common cable type was Micro-USB.  Was this the ultimate cable?  It certainly wasn’t. For starters, it has a non-reversible end which causes damage to cables and devices as users struggle to insert it the right way up.  Micro-USB continues to limp on but is dramatically declining, accounting for less than 10% of the phone charges we deliver.

If Micro-USB had been mandated years ago, we’d be stuck with an inferior solution. We wouldn’t be seeing the increasing number of larger devices that use USB Power Delivery charging, which is impossible with Micro-USB. We’d also be stuck with bad chargers for phones needing alternative chargers around our homes and workplaces for other devices instead of sharing cables. 

Forcing such a change will also render equipment useless, potentially creating more e-Waste and further consumer cost.  For example, the car industry works on a much slower innovation cycle. If your AV equipment in your brand new car supports your Apple iPhone via Lightning, but that system cannot support your next phone, what will that mean for you and your vehicle?

How can EU politicians judge the limits imposed on technology vendors and prevent us from choosing something else when those vendors are incentivised to make our lives better?

We firmly believe any intervention in this area is bad because it will stifle innovation and potentially productivity by limiting what innovations can be deployed.  

Wireless charging doesn’t plug into the phone but requires an alternative connection. If that’s allowed, why not something else? We’d be forcing our devices to have ports that limit waterproofing and dust proofing if it’s not allowed. There may be details in the EU proposals that outline these, but we can’t be sure since the situation is evolving.

If the EU IS determined to mandate something and reduce e-waste, then surely it should be focused on the other two elements of charging:-

  • The charger itself has considerably more environmental impact than a cable 
  • Having a standard protocol such as USB Power Delivery

However, this too requires caution as USB PD covers everything from a 15W charger suitable for small phones to 100W chargers for laptops. Indeed the next version of USB PD will support 240W charging – capable of charging the most power-hungry laptops as well as e-bike batteries, power tool batteries and a whole host of other things. 

In summary, the EU should not interfere in areas that have the potential to limit innovation and productivity.  But if they have to do anything, then perhaps the focus should be on quality chargers that are safe, reliable and power-efficient and that use a standard charging protocol such as USB-PD.  This would be far more beneficial to consumers and the environment alike.

The EU should also lobby the USB Implementers Forum to make sure consumers understand that charger, charging standard, and cable permutations are many – and all impact performance. 

Change doesn’t have to happen overnight – but to prevent change altogether would be disastrous.