CTIA backs universal cell-phone charger

The U.S. mobile group now supports a push for a shared Micro-USB charger in 2012

CTIA, the main industry association for U.S. mobile operators, has put its weight behind an initiative calling for a universal cell-phone charger.

The GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association) and 17 manufacturers and carriers announced the push at the Mobile World Congress in February in Barcelona. The plan is to rally around a global charger specification that uses the Micro-USB interface to connect with handsets and uses 50 percent less power in standby mode. By Jan. 1, 2012, a majority of all new mobile phone models will support the new charger, the group pledged.

The Universal Charging Solution would simplify consumers' lives by letting them buy one charger and keep using it when they buy new phones. As a result, it would eliminate an estimated 51,000 tons of duplicate chargers, according to the system's backers.

CTIA counts among its members the main U.S. mobile operators and many key IT and cellular vendors, including Motorola, Research in Motion, Cisco Systems and Apple. The organization lobbies for the industry and organizes two big annual trade shows.

The OMTP (Open Mobile Terminal Platform) group selected Micro-USB as the standard connector for charging in 2007. This interface is similar to the Mini-USB system used in the Motorola Razr and many BlackBerry models, but thinner. It's already used in a number of models, including the BlackBerry Storm and Curve 8900 and phones from HTC.

Handset manufacturers have prevented standardization of phone chargers in the past because they wanted to make money from proprietary accessories, either through licensing deals or by selling the gear themselves, according to Avi Greengart of Current Analysis.

Most of those accessories businesses haven't been profitable, so the vendors are now rallying around the universal charger, he said. The shrinking of handsets created another incentive to adopt a new, more compact interface, and standardization can cut the cost of doing so.

"Why try to build your own version if you can get together with the rest of the industry?" Greengart said.

The vendors lined up for the GSMA announcement included Nokia, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Qualcomm and Sony Ericsson. Operators included AT&T, Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and Telefónica.

While a standard charger will help consumers and the environment, it will also benefit carriers, according to Greengart. If they sell phones with different types of interfaces, they need to have many types of accessories available in their stores.

"Right now, it's an inventory nightmare," Greengart said.

One vendor that's unlikely to get behind the initiative is Apple, he believes. Its accessory business is highly successful, with many licensed third-party vendors using the familiar, proprietary iPhone and iPod docking interface in their products.

If Apple does include Micro-USB in a future iPhone, it will probably be in addition to the existing dock link, he said.

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