site.btaApple Joins Bulgarian Idea for Universal Mobile Phone Charger with iPhone 15
Many remember the large-scale introduction of mobile communications at the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st. Back then, the happiness of being able to make a phone call or send a message was coupled with several drawbacks, such as the pricy service. A minute of talking on the mobile devices often cost over BGN 1 or 1% of the minimum working wage as at 2001.
Another big problem was that almost all brands were using different chargers, so having a depleted battery made charging the device a challenge without the original charger at hand. In 2003, the chance of someone around you being able to lend you the exact type of charger you needed was slim.
Now, however, the USB-C standard for chargers is widespread. Later in September, Apple’s iPhone smartphones are expected to introduce it too, starting with the latest model, iPhone 15.
In her Facebook profile on Friday, Gergana Passy commented on reports on the latest iPhone and recalled that the idea for a universal mobile phone charger started in Bulgaria. Quoting EU data, she said this will save consumers "up to EUR 250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases" and will cut 11,000 tonnes of waste per year.
Approached by BTA, Passy said Bulgaria's efforts should continue to be directed to similar initiatives so as to have its name associated with positive causes and endeavours.
The charger change began 15 years ago, on May 22, 2008. A Bulgarian MP and chair of the parliamentary foreign policy committee, Solomon Passy, and European Affairs Minister Gergana Grancharova (now Gergana Passy) sent a letter to then European Commission Vice-President Gunter Verheugen insisting on the introduction of a single port standard for mobile chargers. The idea gained popularity following an article in the 24 Chasa daily, published a week later and titled, “EU, GSM, and USA”. According to the article, the single port standard could also be used to connect other accessories, such as earbuds. Passy and Grancharova proposed the common charger to adopt the USB standard.
The letter did not remain without a response, although Verheugen did not make specific commitments. In a letter of July 2008, he noted that it is the businesses’ job to determine how phones are charged, and that a legislative regulation is needed when there is market inefficiency, as was not the case at the time. Still, as an alternative to freely agreed standards for charging, their regulation is possible as a means to reduce their environmental impact, he argued.
According to an article in BTA’s newsletter of February 16, 2009, based on information sent by the Agency’s correspondent in Brussels, the European Commission had requested from big European mobile phone manufacturers to create a universal charger for all models made by them. The initiative for that was of European Commission Vice-President Verheugen. The news was confirmed for BTA by Verheugen’s spokesperson, Ton van Lierop, who said that a special meeting with mobile phone manufacturers would be held the coming month to make them join voluntarily the introduction of a single charger for all phone models.
The businesses’ steps and Apple’s refusal
Later that year, the idea for a universal mobile phone charger was backed by the Mobile World Congress and 17 leading mobile operators, who announced their decision to apply a single standard in the manufacturing of chargers for all types of mobile phones. Also in 2019, the World Telecommunication Union announced the approval of an energy-efficient solution for a universal charger.
In the following years, almost all leading mobile phone manufacturers, such as Samsung, Sonny, Huawei, Xiaomi, and others adopted the USB standard and its subsequent variations. Only the US technological giant Apple has kept to this day its Lighting port for charging its iPhones, but that is about to change very soon.
The new regulations
September 23, 2021: The European Commission proposes to revise the Radio Equipment Directive with the aim of introducing a standard charging solution for all devices. The Commission's proposal is to standardize charging ports and fast charging technology - making USB-C the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and video game consoles. In addition, the Commission proposes to sell chargers separately from electronic devices. So far, as a result of many years of cooperation with industry, the types of mobile phone chargers have been reduced from 30 to 3 in the last decade. According to the Commission, the harmonization of chargers would eliminate the need to produce as many peripherals as now, which would reduce pollution.
June 7, 2022: The European Parliament and the Council of the EU reach a preliminary political agreement on the proposal for a directive to create a universal charger. The aim of the directive is to create a universal charging port for many different electronic devices.
October 4, 2022: The European Parliament formally adopts the law in plenary, voting 602-13 against, with 8 abstentions. The new legislation becomes part of the EU's overall efforts to reduce e-waste and provide more environment-friendly alternatives to consumers.
October 24, 2022: The EU Council gives final approval to the Common Charger Directive. By the end of 2024, all mobile phones, tablets and cameras sold in the EU must have a USB Type-C charging port. From spring 2026, laptops will also have to be equipped with such a port.
December 7, 2022: The new rules are published in the Official Journal of the European Union, giving manufacturers a 12-month grace period to come into line.
September 12, 2023: Apple's new iPhone is expected to charge via a USB-C port.
After 11 years of using its proprietary Lightning charger, Apple will launch on September 12 the iPhone 15, which is expected to come with USB-C - the latest step in an initiative started by Bulgaria 15 years ago.
BTA's Reference Department has contributed to this story.
The copies below of Gergana and Solomon Passy's correspondence with the then European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen are from the family's personal archive and are published for the first time.