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.

Transition Period
The FCC's transition plan mandates that all 2.948-listed labs' authority will expire on July 13, 2016. Furthermore, as of Oct. 12, 2016, no further test reports from such labs, foreign or domestic, will be accepted for devices tested before the July 13 expiration deadline (see Authorization of Radiofrequency Equipment, Final Rule, 80 Fed Reg. 33425; June 12, 2015).

The new rules will harm manufacturers that have overseas 2.948-listed labs in non-MRA countries, as they will incur substantial costs by having to relocate their testing facilities. Manufacturers that utilize non-affiliated 2.948-listed labs in non-MRA countries will soon need to make alternative arrangements or risk losing the ability to market their devices within the United States. In either case, product-development cycles could be severely disrupted, resulting in a substantial loss of revenue.

The ABCs of MRAs
Many manufacturers that utilize foreign testing labs, particularly those just beginning the international marketing process, are choosing to make the safe move of using labs located in countries that have MRAs with the United States. MRAs are basically government-to-government trade-facilitating measures, wherein the participating countries agree to accept the test results and/or device approvals performed by the other country's Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs), based on the use of internationally accepted procedures. CABs include approved test labs and telecommunications certification bodies that perform conformity assessments to an importing party's technical regulations under the specific agreements.

The FCC participates in MRAs with the countries listed below. In general, these MRAs cover RF equipment, but certain nuances exist in the individual MRAs that should be understood concerning the specific information that may be accepted by the FCC for certification. For example, some MRAs are "Phase I," which means that the countries will mutually accept test data, while others may be "Phase II," which indicates mutual acceptance of equipment approvals.

Each of the following countries has an operational MRA with the FCC: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. The FCC has a non-operational MRA with Mexico. The United States and Mexico are currently engaging in an information exchange to make the MRA operational (see EMC and Telecommunications Mutual Recognition Agreements).

Petitions for Reconsideration
The FCC is currently considering petitions for reconsideration of the new rules. These petitions request that the FCC clarify procedures for the recognition of accreditation bodies that can accredit testing labs in non-MRA countries, provide clarification as to how 2.948-listed labs in non-MRA countries can be certified and provide a period of two years as a transition period for currently non-accredited labs to complete the certification process (see Petitions for Reconsideration of Action in Rulemaking Proceeding, Public Notice, FCC Report No. 3030, Oct. 22, 2015).

The Future Is Unclear
The FCC may or may not grant the pending petitions for reconsideration. Yet, even if the FCC does grant certain petitions, in whole or in part, it may nonetheless impose onerous conditions on the accreditation and certification processes, which could discourage labs from complying with the new requirements. Given the importance and material impact of the proposed rules, impacted manufacturers (and the entire IoT ecosystem) would be well-served to closely monitor developments.

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