Radio equipment certification in the USA: an overview of the FCC certification programme

25/02/2021

    In this brief guide, we outline the basic procedures to certify radio equipment according to FCC requirements and how Applus+ can assist manufacturers to successfully certify their products for the US market.

     

    FCC regulates both Testing and Certification for Radio Equipment in the USA

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations, considered in Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

    Regarding radio equipment, the FCC certification ensures that all requirements related to EMC, Radio and Radiofrequency (RF) exposure aspects, including the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) parameters, are adequately fulfilled to meet U.S. regulations and protect users from any harmful effects they may have on them.

    What devices are subject to FCC Certification? 

    From an engineering point of view, general non-intentional radiators include electrical/electronic equipment that generates radio frequency energy to be used within the device, or that sends conducted radio frequency signals to associated equipment via connection wiring, but which is not intended to emit RF energy by radiation or induction. 

    This description includes most electrical and electronic devices without wireless connectivity. Examples include coffee pots, cash registers, printers, wired telephones, and thousands of other types of common electronic-electrical equipment that rely on digital technology. This also includes many traditional products that were once classified as incidental radiators – like motors and basic electrical power tools that now use digital logic. 

    On the other hand, general intentional radiators are devices that by design implement and generate RF to communicate through wireless means, and include cellular phones, short-range devices, WLAN points, IoT sensors and remote control devices, among others.

    The FCC Title 47 Part 15 groups “RF devices” in the following major categories of operation: 

    • Unintentional Radiators (Part 15B)
    • Intentional Radiators (Part 15C)
    • Unlicensed Personal Communications Service Devices (Part 15D)
    • Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure Devices (Part 15E)
    • Ultra-Wideband Operation (Part 15F)
    • Access Broadband Over Power Line (Part 15G) 
    • White Space Devices (Part 15F)

     

    Other equipment covered by the FCC certification under Title 47 are: 

    • Cellular phones, devices for public mobile (Part 22)
    • Personal communications services (Part 24)
    • Equipment for satellite communications (part 25), i.e., radio equipment for which a license must be held in order to be operated.

     

    The FCC certification scope considers equipment separately depending on the radio bands used, these being licenced bands, subject to prior authorization before being used, and free bands, also known as unlicensed:

    • Unlicensed Radio Frequency Devices are covered by FCC rules, Part 15 and 18. Part 15B and Part 18 related to “Unintentional Radiators” and “Industrial, Scientific, and Medical Equipment” respectively, are subject to voluntary certification, them being non-intentional radiators
    • Licensed Radio Service Equipment, covered by FCC rules, Parts 20, 22, 24, 25, 27, 30, 73, 74, 80, 87, 90, 95, 96, 97, 101, etc.

     

    The FCC Certification is mandatory for any device that intentionally generates radio waves to work as expected. The FCC certification process considers the involvement of a Telecommunications Certification Body (TCB). 

    A TCB is a private third-party organization authorized to issue grants of certification, within its scope of recognition, for equipment subject to the Commission’s certification procedures. Under these rules, a TCB has the authority to review and grant an application for certification for a product subject to the FCC certification rules.

    Applus+ is a recognized TCB according to ISO 17065, with more than one thousand certificates issued per year.

    Use of the radio spectrum in the United States

    The FCC's Table of Frequency Allocations includes the International Table of Frequency Allocations ("International Table") and the United States Table of Frequency Allocations ("United States Table"). The FCC's Table of Frequency Allocations is codified in Title 47 Section 2.106 of the Commission's Rules that assigns the electromagnetic frequency spectrum and establishes the frequency allocations available for radio services in the United States. The Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) is in charge of maintaining the FCC's Table of Frequency Allocations.

    Compliance steps for FCC Certification

    Before being able to start the certification process, any applicant intending to commercialize radio equipment in the USA must obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN). The FRN is a 10-digit number used to identify the individual or organization doing business with the FCC. 

    After obtaining an FRN, the responsible party must obtain a Grantee Code from the Commission by applying through the Grantee Registration website. A Grantee code is required the first time a party applies for certification and can be used for all future approvals. 

    After completing the above steps, the applicant can start the certification process, which must be performed by an FCC-recognised certification body. Applus+ Laboratories (TCB ES0002) holds this recognition and is able to provide FCC certification services.

    There are several certification programmes, each based on the nature of the telecommunications equipment and different ways to obtain approval based on the applicant’s needs, including Original certification, Change FCC ID, Modification (C2PC, C3PC). Our team at Applus+ Laboratories can provide detailed information on all existing certification programmes.

    For almost every type of application, the applicant is required to provide a sample of the equipment to be tested at an FCC-authorized lab. Applus+ Laboratories has been recognised by the FCC as an Authorized Test Firm (registration nº 507478) to test wireless devices following FCC requirements, for both licensed and unlicensed equipment.

    Applus+ Laboratories scope as a Telecommunication Certification Body 

    We are TCB ES0002 authorized for both Unlicensed (A1, A2 & A4) and Licensed (B1) devices:

    • A1: Low-power transmitters operating on frequencies below 1 GHz (except spread-spectrum devices), emergency alert systems, unintentional radiators and ISM devices
    • A2: Low-power transmitters operating on frequencies above 1 GHz (except spread-spectrum devices)
    • A4: Low-power transmitters using spread-spectrum techniques
    • B1: Commercial Mobile (Radio) Services in 47 CFR Parts 20, 22 (cellular), 24, 25 (below 3 GHz), and 27

     

    Turn to the experts in international regulation to manage your product conformity

    As an FCC-recognized testing firm and certification body, Applus+ can evaluate conformity and issue certificates in order to allow manufacturers to get access to the US market, ensuring that wireless products meet conformity requirements and that all the necessary tests to meet the required certification standards have been performed.

    Each market has specific conformity procedures and requirements, and some of these requirements have synergies that, if correctly planned, can help streamline radio type approval projects. This is particularly the case of FCC certification projects, as US certificates can be used as bases for compliance in several countries around the world. 

    It is highly recommended to turn to regulation and certification experts like Applus+ Laboratories. We help manufacturers assess the costs and opportunities involved in entering a particular market and manage the whole certification process, from start to finish. Contact us and speak with our team of experts if you would like more information or to get a head start on your next certification project!

    By Adriá Galin, Radio Regulatory Matters, at Applus+ Laboratories
     

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