Major FCC regulatory changes - significant impact for wireless device manufacturers
At the end of 2014 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released FCC 14-208, a Report and Order proposing a number of important changes to how wireless devices should be tested and certified. Subsequently, these changes were published in the Federal Register in June 2015, which means that they have now been adopted as formal FCC rules.
When the rules are fully implemented by 13 July 2016, they will introduce significant changes to how and where products may be tested in order to gain approval for the US market. We also estimate that updates to the FCC rules means that 174 test chambers in China will not be able to be used for FCC wireless testing activity, representing approximately 40% of the FCC’s testing capacity being taken offline. This will of course have a major impact on the processes manufacturers use to gain approval for their wireless products, and it could also seriously affect time to market for new products.
Current Rules overview
The Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) administers the equipment authorisation programme under the authority of the FCC. The rules allow equipment to be authorised in accordance with one (or more) of the following three separate approval processes:
1. Verification – the least stringent of the procedures that requires the responsible party for compliance to rely on measurements to ensure that equipment complies with the appropriate standards. The responsible party is not required to use an accredited test laboratory and equipment authorised under this procedure is not listed in the FCC database. Evidence of compliance must be retained by the responsible party in case it is requested by the FCC.
2. Declaration of Conformity (DoC) – a procedure that requires the party responsible for compliance to use an accredited testing laboratory to ensure that the equipment complies with the appropriate standards. Manufacturers draw up and maintain a Declaration of Conformity, which is supplied with the equipment. Compliant equipment is not required to be listed in the FCC database, unless it is provided from a country outside the USA and there is no responsible party in the USA. In which case, certification is required.
3. Certification – the most rigorous process for devices with the greatest potential to cause interference, namely all types of wireless devices. Testing is performed by a laboratory listed by the FCC as capable of performing the required tests. Certification is compulsory and certified devices are maintained on the FCC database along with various exhibits supplied by the certificate grantee.
Until recently, the FCC required that certification was carried out either by the FCC itself or by Telecommunications Certification Bodies (TCB), which were authorised to act on behalf of the FCC. Last year, the FCC decided to cease providing certification itself and allow all certification activity be handled by TCBs, which were already handling approximately 98% of certification activities.
TCB ‘exclusion lists’ and ‘permit-but-ask’ procedures have now been replaced by a ‘pre-approval compliance procedure’. New technologies will be added to the pre-approval guidance procedures through FCC Orders and issue of Knowledge Database (KDB) documents.
While TCBs will continue to perform market surveillance of around 5% of the products they certify, a vendor supplied voucher system may now also be used. This means that TCBs may acquire products directly from the marketplace, in order to ensure that ‘golden samples’ are not being supplied by the manufacturer for market surveillance testing.
As TCBs are now performing 100% of the FCC certification activities, all testing in support of the DoC and certification procedures must be ISO 17025 accredited, from 13th July 2016. This is intended to raise the standard of test reports that are received by TCBs from manufacturers. This includes equipment subject to all parts of the FCC rules, including those for licensed devices. TCBs will be required to check the scope of accreditation of test labs that supply test reports for certification and will be on the lookout for fraudulent test reports.
The FCC Pt 2.948 laboratory listing programme has now ended for new laboratories and for laboratories seeking renewals. Instead, a separate laboratory list will be published showing all the FCC-recognised laboratories. These test laboratories must be accredited every two years, and the sub-contracting of testing to unaccredited laboratories will no longer be permitted.
Significant issues for China
Perhaps the most important of the new FCC rules is the fact that laboratories in countries outside the USA without a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) in place with the USA must use an accrediting body that is recognised by the FCC. However, the FCC has not yet recognised any accrediting bodies in countries that do not have an MRA with the USA, including China.
This means that when the new rules come into force on 13 July 2016, testing performed in support of DoC and certification activity must be ISO 17025 accredited and testing performed in China (or any other non-MRA country) will not be accepted by TCBs. Of course, Chinese test laboratories will be badly hit by these new rules as many worldwide manufacturers currently test in China as it can be more cost effective.
As of the beginning of 2017, Industry Canada will also require all testing in support of certification to be ISO 17025 accredited.
Manufacturers that have testing performed in laboratories based in China should consider alternative test laboratories from around March 2016 onwards.
The FCC actively enforces its own rules. Common infringements include incorrect labelling of electronic devices or insufficient information supplied to the user (which many manufacturers may deem a trivial matter), as well as selling and marketing of non-certified equipment.
Penalties can be severe, and in 2012 and 2013 totalled $2 million per annum. It therefore pays to understand the FCC rules. If in doubt, seek guidance from a company experienced in dealing with FCC matters, such as TÜV SÜD.
How can TÜV SÜD help you?
TÜV SÜD offers ISO 17025 accredited testing to the majority of FCC and Industry Canada radio standards.
TÜV SÜD BABT, the certification body of TÜV SÜD, provides FCC certification services for manufacturers and suppliers of radio and telecoms equipment wishing to gain access to the US market.
As a TCB appointed under the EU-USA MRA, TÜV SÜD BABT is authorised by the FCC to issue grants for a wide range of equipment within the following categories:
CFR 47 Parts 15 – Unlicensed Radio Frequency Devices
CFR 47 Parts 22 – Public Mobile Services
CFR 47 Parts 24 – Personal Communication Service
CFR 47 Parts 27 – Miscellaneous Wireless Communication Devices
CFR 47 Parts 80 – Maritime Service
CFR 47 Parts 87 – Aviation Services
CFR 47 Parts 90 – Private Land Mobile Radio Service
OET 65C – SAR
Competitive advantage with our Global Market Access service
As well as the USA and Canada, other country-specific standards present the telecoms industry with the challenge of managing product compliance. TÜV SÜD’s GMA service is a systematic process that accounts for these compliance differences, helping you to streamline the export of products to multiple markets worldwide.
TÜV SÜD BABT, as one of the world’s leading independent certification bodies for telecommunications, certifies wireless products for the European Union, USA, Canada and Japan. These services are complemented by our GMA service, which provides access to many other countries through testing, assessments and auditing, and through our relationships with country regulatory bodies.