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New FCC Rules Could Threaten RFID, IoT Development

The agency's new equipment-authorization rules impact where manufacturers can cost-effectively conduct R&D for devices certified for sale in the United States.
By Ronald E. Quirk Jr.
Dec 13, 2015

The rapidly expanding universe of "connected devices" and the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) market offer tremendous moneymaking potential for manufacturers of radio-frequency (RF) emitting products, including RFID readers. New RF devices are being developed, tested, manufactured and sold all over the world. In the interest of controlling production costs, many manufacturers that sell their devices in the United States conduct design and regulatory compliance testing overseas.

In just a few short months, however—barring action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—manufacturers that conduct R&D and device testing in many countries could see their development costs rapidly increase.

The FCC is currently in the process of "de-authorizing" various test laboratories. It is critical for manufacturers to stay current on developments that that could have an adverse effect on their marketing, both in the United States and abroad.

FCC Bans Use of Non-Accredited Testing Labs
The FCC recently promulgated new RF equipment authorization rules that significantly impact the business practices of RF equipment manufacturers, importers, marketers and testing labs (see Amendment of Parts 0, 1, 2 and 15 of the Commission's Rules regarding Authorization of Radiofrequency Equipment).

Under the old rules (and until the expiration of the transition period described below), the FCC permits applicants for RF equipment certification to submit testing reports prepared by either an FCC-accredited lab or a 2.948-listed lab. (The "2.948" refers to Section 2.948 of the FCC's rules that authorized use of those labs.) The main difference between the two is that an accredited lab must meet the general requirements of the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission ("ISO/IEC") in accordance with certain FCC rules, whereas a 2.948-listed lab is accepted and listed by the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) as such if it submits certain information to the FCC, such as a description of the test site, testing structures and measuring equipment used, as well as data showing that the lab meets the accepted standard for measuring RF emissions.

Among other things, the new rules disallow the use of test results from non-accredited 2.948-listed labs that were accepted and listed by the OET. The new rules, which extend to foreign testing labs, require that all test results used in the certification process be provided by a lab accredited by an FCC-recognized accreditation body. By the end of the current transition period, foreign labs must be accredited by an approved foreign designating authority and be recognized by the FCC under the terms of a government-to-government Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA). Labs located in a country that does not have an MRA with the United States must be accredited by an FCC-recognized organization.

In sum, manufacturers that have been using 2.948-listed testing labs in non-MRA countries will no longer be able to utilize the results from those labs for the purposes of certifying RF devices sold in the United States unless the FCC implements procedures for those labs to be recognized, and those labs obtain such recognition. The rub is that the FCC did not provide for any such procedures in the new rules.

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