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Mobile phone chargers: Makers brace for Micro-USB standard

The impending adoption of a universal charging interface poses a challenge to China’s shrinking supplier base.

The mobile phone chargers industry in China is expected to undergo a major transformation following the announcement of the imminent adoption of Micro-USB as the universal charging solution by 2012.

Among the first to support this initiative, launched by the GSM Association, are the 3 Group, AT&T, HTC, KTF, LG, Mobilkom Austria, Motorola, Nokia, NTT Docomo, Orange and Qualcomm. Rogers Wireless, Samsung, Softbank Mobile, Sony Ericsson, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor, Telstra, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Apple, NEC, RIM and TI are also in this group.

After implementation, the plan is projected to bring down production of replacement chargers by as much as 51,000 tons annually. This will eliminate 13.6 million to 21.8 million tons of greenhouse gases emitted during manufacture.

While the standard is intended to benefit consumers and the environment, it will also significantly affect China’s current 600-strong mobile phone chargers supplier base. With demand expected to drop 30 to 50 percent in the next three years, many makers are likely to reduce output, shift product lines and even exit the industry altogether.

The supply of units that do not use Micro-USB as charging interface, however, is not expected to drop dramatically by 2012.

Instead, companies forecast a gradual shrinking of turnout starting 2H11 through 2014, by which time the manufacturing pool will have contracted 35 to 45 percent.

In the meantime, makers are slowly recovering from the effects of the global economic slowdown. Some said they have regained prerecession revenue mainly by adjusting pricing strategies. ViewKuan Electronic Products Mfg, for example, lowered quotes 3 to 5 percent to attract orders.

Global mobile phone charger shipments for 2009 are forecast to reach 1.3 billion to 1.4 billion units. These include replacement models and units bundled with new handsets. Turnout for the latter is expected to stay at roughly 1 billion units annually.


Products & prices

Mobile phone chargers from China come in two main types, the standard plug-in and novelty models.

The first category accounts for more than 95 percent of total output. Travel, dock, in-vehicle and universal designs fall under this classification. Suitable for daily use, they convert AC to DC power and have relatively high efficiency. About 70 percent of the line consists of traveluse versions.

Novelty chargers include solar and wind-up models that are meant to be used as a backup power generator. They are not designed to replace conventional AC/DC chargers.

Regardless of type, the basic specifications of mobile phone chargers are similar. The output voltage is about 5 to 5.5VDC and current is from 300 to 400mAh.

Travel, dock and universal versions usually have an input power of 90 to 260VAC. In-vehicle models are powered through the 12VDC cigarette lighter socket.

Low-end travel chargers are priced from $0.60 to $1. They come with basic circuit protection but may not be able to maximize the battery’s capacity.

Models $0.40 or lower most likely use recycled plastic, have inadequate circuit protection and may not be safe for users and the environment.

Going for $1 to $1.50, midrange designs have similar specifications as basic chargers but use higher-quality materials and components sourced domestically. These may come with some international certification.

High-end travel chargers are available for $1.40 to $2. They are made of high-grade PC from Taiwan and Japan, and feature precise and stable power output. Models in this range have CE, UL, and FCC approval and meet RoHS requirements.

Makers also provide travel chargers with multiple connectors for popular mobile phone brands such as Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Blackberry and iPhone. Dock chargers list at similar price points, while invehicle models are usually $0.40 lower than travel versions with comparable specifications.

Universal chargers are quoted from $0.50 to $1. They are compatible with most batteries and provide constant voltage, but often cannot reach the maximum charging efficiency. This type may cause the battery to overcharge or discharge, and is not ideal for daily usage.

Solar and wind-up chargers often have a battery with capacity ranging from 400 to 2,000mAh and 50 to 200mAh, respectively.

Models that run on solar energy come with a 400 to 1,000mAh battery and usually double as a power bank. Depending on the size of the PV panel and battery and accessories, prices range from $8 to $12.

Wind-up chargers are between $3 and $7 based on the battery capacity and power output. A model from Zhejiang Shengbo Electronic Co. Ltd can be cranked for 3 minutes to support a 2 to 8-minute voice call. Most units come with a flashlight or radio.

The wide adoption of Li-ion batteries in portable digital devices such as mobile phones has prompted China makers to direct R&D efforts and production toward compatible chargers. Interest in this particular battery chemistry is encouraged further by products’ falling prices, and high capacity and energy-weight ratio.

As such, practically all China-made mobile phone chargers can work with Li-ion batteries.

To maximize the battery capacity, prevent overcharging and improve overall performance, makers are adopting enhanced ICs, ASICs and microprocessors. Product development efforts are directed toward stable battery temperature, capacity and voltage detection, trickle charging, auto power cutoff and input current limitation.


Industry overview

China is the world’s biggest mobile phone chargers production center, accounting for 60 percent of total supply. More than half of output comes from multinational corporations with factories there, while 40 to 45 percent is from domestic manufacturers.

About 70 percent of the 600 providers of the line in China are based in Guangdong province, particularly in the cities of Yunfu, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Huizhou and Zhongshan. Products from the province are mostly exported and are priced relatively higher than other manufacturing hubs.

The rest of the supplier pool is spread throughout Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shandong provinces, where many makers take advantage of beneficial local government policies. Solar and wind-up chargers come mostly from Jiangsu and Zhejiang, which are also China’s major hubs for PV panel production.

More than 90 percent of suppliers are small and midsize companies with fewer than 300 workers. Larger makers have more than 1,000 personnel. The typical monthly output is from 100,000 to 700,000 units.

Factories with in-house laboratories are usually equipped with RoHS, high/low temperature, leakage current and salt-spray testers, digital LCR meters, transistor characteristics displays and industrial dryers. These are either imported or procured from foreign-owned domestic companies.

While most materials are sourced within China, plastic and ICs for high-end models are generally imported from major vendors such as Freescale of the US.

Most companies are ISO 9001 and 14001-certified. Many have 20 to 60 QC inspectors who ensure that ICs comply with CEC and Energy Star requirements.

Export-oriented makers conduct IPQC and OQA, and target a zero defect and product return rate.

This article "Mobile phone chargers: Makers brace for Micro-USB standard" is originally posted in Global Sources.


Contact suppliers in this article

Connectland Technology Limited
Times Telecom Ltd
ViewKuan Electronic Products Manufacturing
Zhejiang Shengbo Electronic Co. Ltd


Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

 

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.


 

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