05-10-2021 | By Sam Brown
Recently, the European Commission announced its plans to standardise power connectors for charged devices to reduce e-waste. Why is unification good for the electronics industry, what cable will be chosen as the unifier, and what challenges does this solve?
Standardisation and compatibility is a concept that has been around since the dawn of mankind. While some commodities such as jewellery benefit from being unique, almost everything else suffers from such uniqueness. For example, machinery massively helps reduce labour costs and effort. Still, if a machine is made up of not widely available parts, then maintenance can be more problematic than human labour.
This is a common problem that the tech industry has faced since its inception. Many movements have occurred attempting to eliminate devices and parts that are not standardised to some degree. One classic example is the introduction of the IBM compatible PC using a standardised interface bus that any manufacturer can create add-ons for. Before IBM introduced the PC, computers would use unique hardware and software configurations, making them incompatible. This led to difficulties in transferring data from one system to another and seeing a disjointed hardware market.
Fast-forward to modern times and standardisation of hardware and software is very commonplace; most devices use USB as a communication bus and charging port, Ethernet provides hardwired internet, Wi-Fi provides wireless internet, and Windows provides a software environment that allows almost any computer to share and read files from any other computer.
Recently, the European Commission announced its intentions of making USB-C cables the industrial standard cable that all USB-charged devices must use. The drive for standardisation of charging cables comes from multiple factors, including the environment and compatibility.
In terms of choice of cable, USB-C makes the most sense for a whole range of reasons. The first is that USB-C is currently the latest version of USB cables, and therefore supports all the top features of USB (high data rate, video streaming etc.).
The second reason is that the USB-C connector is not polarised (i.e. can be inserted in any orientation) and is, therefore, more convenient. The third reason is that USB-C supports power up to 100W and may soon upgrade to 240W, making it ideal for any charging application. Fourthly, USB-C is an open standard that any manufacturer can produce, removing unique cables monopolies.
Most devices with charging capabilities are shipped with a charger and cable, which caused many customers real challenges in the past with drawers full of different chargers and leads. While some companies in the past would use more common connectors such as barrel jacks, others would use charger ports that didn’t even have an established name, making them impossible to replace.
This challenge was solved with the introduction of USB and legislation that mandated that devices use recognised industrial connectors. However, the switchover to USB did not see manufacturers stop providing chargers with their devices. This has led to customers having too many USB chargers and committing them to the landfill as unneeded hardware (but still perfectly functional). As such, the decision to use only USB-C cables and prevent manufacturers from providing charging cables with their devices will help to reduce the amount of unnecessary e-waste being produced.
Unified cables also help reduce the total amount of e-waste from cables and allow customers to purchase cables from any vendor. One company that is particularly famous for constantly introducing new cables and connectors is Apple. While Apple would state that their technology changes rapidly as a result of trying to give their customers the best experience, it could be easily seen that Apple was doing well-selling replacement hardware while preventing other companies from producing compatible cables.
Overall, the standardisation of charging cables can only be a good thing, and reducing the amount of e-waste will help the environment and customers alike.