CTIA backs standard data, power, audio jacks for phones

The mobile industry group's board put its weight behind Micro-USB and 3.5mm headphone jacks

The board of the wireless industry group CTIA this week voted to support broad adoption of two interfaces for connecting peripherals to mobile phones: Micro-USB and the 3.5mm "mini plug" headphone jack.

The governing body, which includes representatives of Nokia, Motorola and Samsung as well as the four biggest mobile operators in the U.S. and other companies around the world, voted unanimously in favor of using the interfaces in future handsets, said Michael Altschul, CTIA's senior vice president and general counsel.

Consumers have been frustrated at having to buy new peripherals such as car chargers and headsets every time they buy a new phone, sometimes even when staying within the same line of phones, Altschul said. Phone manufacturers have used a variety of interfaces for charging, data transfer and audio input and output. But in addition to consumer irritation, mobile operators and retailers don't want to have to stock different accessories for every type of phone they sell for several years after it's released, Altschul said.

The vote took place at a board meeting on the sidelines of the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment conference in San Diego. Almost all the major participants were present for the vote, Altschul said, though he noted that LG Electronics and US Cellular were not able to attend.

However, the decision isn't binding on the member companies of the board nor of CTIA, Altschul said. It's solely a statement of support for the use of those connector types on devices introduced after January 2012. CTIA believes handset makers will start to standardize on the technologies in response to consumer preferences as well as mobile operators' specification lists for future devices, he said.

The group actually laid out three options for manufacturers:

- Use a USB Micro-B port for charging and data transfer and a 3.5mm mini plug for headphones and microphones

- Use a USB Micro-AB port and the 3.5mm plug

- Use a USB Micro-AB port for charging, data transfer and USB headsets

The endorsement had one qualification, Altschul said: It's not yet clear whether Micro-USB is fast enough for transferring high-definition video, so the CTIA board left aside the question of an interface for that application.

CTIA had already endorsed Micro-USB as part of an international initiative for a universal phone charger. In April, the group followed the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) Association and other entities in backing Micro-USB for the Universal Charging Solution standard starting in 2012. The vote this week added support for Micro-USB for data transfers with devices such as PCs and netbooks.

One driver for the Universal Charging Solution, as with this week's vote, is reducing waste. The Universal Charging Solution, for example, would allow consumers to have one charger and use it with each successive phone they buy, rather than disposing of an estimated 51,000 tons of duplicate chargers, the backers of the initiative said.

Even Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, who is participating in events this week around the CTIA conference, endorsed the board's vote.

"These consumer-friendly initiatives will also provide benefits to innovators making peripheral products for the mobile marketplace and to our environment," Genachowski said in a statement issued late Wednesday,

In addition to easing consumer frustration, standard jacks for peripherals could save phone makers and operators money, In-Stat analyst Allen Nogee said. If consumers no longer need a new charger for each phone they buy, carriers may stop including one in the package, he said.

Handset manufacturers once hoped to make money selling accessories with proprietary connectors and licenses to build them, analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis said when CTIA backed the Universal Charging Solution. After the accessory business proved unprofitable, they had no reason to continue investing in proprietary development, he said.

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