Why India’s move to standardise charging ports is a win for consumers, economy

With nearly a billion mobile users, there is a bewildering array of charging ports – and chargers – with legacy devices in the market.
With nearly a billion mobile users, there is a bewildering array of charging ports – and chargers – with legacy devices in the market.

Summary

India is likely to make the Type-C port mandatory for mobile phones from March 2025, just three months after a similar directive takes effect in the EU region.

The government’s move to standardise the charging ports for smart electronic devices – mobile phones, tablets and wearable devices – into just two types of ports may well achieve the elusive golden trifecta of policymaking: a policy which benefits consumers, the economy and the planet.

The first step has already been taken with the Bureau of Indian Standards – the apex standards-setting authority in the country – notifying standards for a USB Type-C charging port, which will be applicable to mobile phones and tablets. According to media reports, consultations with mobile phone and charger manufacturers have already led to a broad consensus on standardising the USB Type-C port as standard across all applicable mobile devices manufactured and sold in India.

India is likely to make the Type-C port mandatory for mobile phones from March 2025, just three months after a similar directive kicks in in the EU region. Laptop manufacturers have been given an additional year to comply with the directive in the EU and India is likely to follow suit on that count as well.

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At the same time, a working group has been constituted to look into the possibility of standardising the charging port – and hence chargers – for wearable devices like smart watches and fitness trackers. The Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur has been tasked with examining the technical issues involved in evolving such a standard.

This has huge implications for both manufacturers and consumers. India is one of the world’s largest smartphone markets, with smartphone shipments expected to hit 150 million units in 2022, according to the International Data Corporation’s mobile tracker report. India is also the biggest feature phone market in the world, with 2022 shipments expected to close a shade under 50 million units.

India’s smartphone market is dominated by Android devices, the majority of which are already shifting to the USB Type-C port. However, this is for new shipments. With nearly a billion mobile users, there is a bewildering array of charging ports – and chargers – with legacy devices in the market. Apple, which has a small share of the Indian market, continues to be an outlier, mainly shipping phones with its proprietary lightning port in India. Feature phones, too, come with an array of charging ports ranging from thick and thin pins to mini and micro-USB ports.

This has led to a growing mountain of e-waste, with consumers forced to discard perfectly good chargers while changing devices. Standardisation would mean that consumers need not change chargers with devices, leading to reduced electronic waste.

It would also lend scale to local charger manufacturers, which would dovetail neatly with the government’s bid to make India a major mobile phone charger manufacturing hub with its production-linked incentive (PLI) schemes for mobile phone as well as charger manufacturers. According to estimates by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, with India potentially able to grab half of this market.

On the wearable front too, India is making rapid progress, with wearables (which include trackers, smart watches and wireless headphones) shipments touching 75 million units in the January-September 2022 period, according to IDC. IDC estimates that the Indian wearables market, in volume terms, will become the world’s second largest in calendar 2022, behind only China. Here too, standardisation of the charging port offers opportunities for scale manufacture and consequent cost reduction, enabling Indian manufacturers to more effectively compete with Chinese manufacturers.

On the consumer front, though, there is a lot more that the government can do to not only reduce costs for consumers but also reduce unnecessary waste and eliminate planned obsolescence by manufacturers, which is giving rise to a growing mountain of e-waste in most Indian cities.

While a “Right to repair" law is reportedly in the works, the government took the first step by launching a “right to repair" portal on Christmas eve (December 24). In the initial phase, the right-to-repair portal will cover electronic products, consumer durables, mobile phones, farming equipment, and automobiles. Consumers will be able to access product manuals, repair information and software updates by accessing the portal, to enable them to either repair devices themselves or through third-party repair services. At the moment, compliance is voluntary and a handful of manufacturers have been onboarded.

However, the government can go further by making it mandatory for manufacturers to provide software support and updates for a minimum number of years, so that products which are still functional are not forced into obsolescence. Such a provision in fact already exists under UK law. Compelling manufacturers to enable devices to have either removeable and replaceable batteries, as well as allowing opening of the device for repair without damaging it, as is the case with many devices at present.

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