The IEC Creates A Universal Laptop Charger

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), a non-profit body that develops standards for electronic devices, has finished working on a technical specification for a universal laptop charger.

It is hoped that the new design will significantly lower the amount e-waste going to the landfill, while also making the lives of consumers much easier.

The IEC Technical Specification 62700 covers all aspects of external chargers, from the shape of the connector to safety, interoperability, performance and environmental considerations.

However, it is not clear whether companies like Apple, which has been using proprietary connectors across its product range, will adopt the new standard. The disposable charger approach makes more money for the company, but often causes problems for consumers – for example, Apple’s 8-pin ‘Lightning’ was criticised due to its incompatibility with the older iPhone and iPad accessories.

Meanwhile, most other manufacturers have already adopted mini-USB as a standard for smartphones and tablets, after the IEC first proposed the idea in 2011.

The full technical specification for a universal laptop charger is expected to be published in early 2014.

Setting standards

Currently headquartered in Geneva, the IEC has been shaping electronic equipment standards for over a century. It helped develop the International System of Units, and is responsible for publishing the International Electrotechnical Vocabulary, which helps engineers across the world speak a common technical language.

The organisation says that billions of external laptop chargers get shipped by laptop manufacturers each year, full of valuable metals and weighing up to 600 grams each. Most of them end up in a landfill.

A broken charger can stop a consumer from using a perfectly functional computer, and thanks to proprietary connectors, a fully working but outdated charger can be absolutely useless.

The IEC estimates that the total weight of e-waste related to various charging devices used in ICT exceeds half a million tons every year – that’s as much as 500,000 cars.

To help the situation, experts from around the world have created a safe and reliable charger that can be used with any laptop. IEC says that throughout the design process, its members kept relevant technology developments in mind, making the standard not just useful, but also future-proof.

In October, the European Parliament voted unanimously to adopt a single universal charger for smartphones and tablets in the EU. All members of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee said radio equipment devices and their accessories, including chargers, should be interoperable, and have proposed new rules that would make a universal charger obligatory.

So far, Apple has been ignoring this development, but it could be forced to comply. The company had not responded to our request for comment at the time of publication.

“The IEC International Standards for the universal charger for mobile phones has been widely adopted by the mobile phone industry and is already starting to help reduce e-waste,” said Frans Vreeswijk, CEO and general secretary of the IEC.

“A single power supply covering a wide range of notebook computers is the next step in lowering e-waste and its impact on our planet. I am proud that the IEC has yet again managed to make the best possible technical solution available.”

Even though some organisations are proposing to alter the design in order to cover ICT equipment beyond laptops, the IEC says it makes more sense to develop a charger for a certain class of device, at least for now.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

View Comments

    • A few major publications including the Telegraph have reported that specification has been published, but they are all wrong. :) As far as I understand, it has been released internally and will be available to the public in the beginning of 2014.

      • Yes, so how much confidence do you have in a specification that needs to be kept under wraps ("released internally") instead of being openly discussed? All experience with standards development in a smoke-filled back room indicates that this will be designed to make some patent holders happy, but ignore the users. And then, of course, the EU will be lobbied into making it mandatory. NOT progress.

        • That will be interesting to see. Did anyone get patented tech into the standardised phone/tablet charger, do you know? Or did the USB community keep everyone honest?
          Peter Judge

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