Some of the world's largest mobile handset makers have reached an agreement with the European Commission to work towards a universal charger that can be used to charge all mobile phones.

The hope is that the first generation of the standardised phone charger could be introduced next year, so that users will not have to hunt around for a phone specific charger when they are low on battery power.

Steps are now being taken to standardise mobile-phone chargers, though a universal charger for all mobile devices will take longer. The Commission claims some of the credit for the agreement reached among mobile phone makers, which earlier this year said they would pursue a universal charger for all phones.

Gunter Verheugen, VP of the European Commission, welcomed the agreement signed by 10 phone makers, including all the biggest names in the industry that account for more than 90 percent of all European mobile phone sales. However, he said that if the industry had failed to reach a voluntary agreement, the Commission would have drafted legislation ordering the standardisation of phone chargers.

Verheugen said the original plan was to push for a universal charger for all devices.

"It would have taken much longer [to get an agreement on one charger for all mobile devices], so we decided to tackle mobile phones first and at the same time we continue to discuss with the industry the other products," he said on Monday.

Inventing a small charger that powers a cell phone and a laptop is a challenge, the commissioner said. Laptops require almost 100 times more electricity to charge than a mobile phone, he said.

Energy efficiency and safety issues must be overcome when developing a single charger for all gadgets, Verheugen said. "We are working on that, I hope it is possible," he said.

Bridget Cosgrave, director general of Digital Europe, a trade group representing IT manufacturers of a wide range of mobile devices, said it might be possible to duplicate the harmonised phone charger idea for other devices but added that there are no plans along those lines presently.

Cosgrave shared the podium with Verheugen a press conference in Brussels. She didn't comment on the idea of one charger for laptops as well as smaller mobile devices.

Susan Smith, a spokesperson for Nokia, said the company "is not looking at this as a possibility," and added she isn't sure it would be technically possible given the varying power needs of different devices.

Mobile phones require around 1.5 watts while laptops need close to 100 watts. That's why a mobile phone charger is a tenth the size of a laptop charger.

Universal chargers for various devices already exist but they are the size of laptop chargers, so they waste a lot of energy if they are used just to charge a mobile phone.

There are currently between 350 million and 400 million active mobile phones in circulation in the European Union, the Commission said. People are replacing their phones at a rate of 180 million per year.

The first generation of universal phone chargers will be distributed from around mid next year, Verheugen said. All phones will run off the universal charger within two to three years, the commissioner said.

Inefficient power units, such as those that supply laptops or mobile phones are on the way out. The European Union has issued new rules that will prevent these from wasting electricity, cutting users' power bills in the process.