Last week the International Telecommunication Union approved a standard for mobile telephone chargers. The Universal Charging Solution (UCS) standard had already been recommended by an industry group, GSMA, and was originally based on a recommendation, “Common Charging and Local Data Connectivity,” released in February by another industry group, the Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP). UCS has also been endorsed by the European Union as a recommendation for all data-capable mobile phones. The idea is to have nearly all mobile phones use the same connector for charging and data exchange, so that you don’t have to buy a new charger every time you buy a new mobile phone.
The initiative is also expected to save electricity by reducing the standby power consumption of phone chargers. Currently, the average phone charger uses 1 to 2 watts of power when it is plugged in but not doing anything. UCS reduces that power consumption to no more than 0.15 watts by having the phone use the data link to tell the charger when it is connected and charging.
At least 26 mobile phone providers and manufacturers have already indicated their support for UCS, and probably the entire industry will adopt the standard within two years. One reason UCS is so easy to support is that it is built around a familiar cable that you can already find at any consumer electronics store. It’s the USB cable used to connect most digital cameras. This makes intuitive sense, as so many phones include cameras. You will be able to recharge your phone using this standard cable and a compliant computer, in much the same way that iPods have always recharged. But you will also be able to plug the cable into a UCS power adapter that plugs into an electric outlet. This equipment will cost less to manufacture, partly because it is simpler than most chargers in current use, and also because any phone manufacturer will have the option of buying the adapters and cables on the open market. To give you an idea of how simple UCS is, the OMTP document that defines it is only 22 pages long.
Although UCS was created specifically for mobile phones, there is nothing to stop any other mobile device from using it. An engineering team with a portable device to design will like find that it is easier to adopt the popular charging and data interface than to design a new one, and so we are likely to see UCS connections on the whole range of portable devices. It may also be used, as a cost-cutting measure, in some plug-in devices that can fit within its power limitations.