One purpose of product compliance testing is to ensure that a product or device meets the regional compliance requirements, these requirements are usually mandated by law). Regions are usually regulated by assigned organisations such as government bodies, examples would be the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for Australia or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the United States of America.
The additional benefit of compliance testing is can help develop a product to be more robust and provide an expected level of product quality to the end-user i.e. the consumer.
So why regulate how products can operate?
The reason why countries regulate products is quite straightforward can be broken down into many aspects but essentially comes down to safety.
Why is product compliance testing needed for Australia?
Typically a region will mandate that the product is electrically safe and that the construction of the product including the components and design can ensure that users will not seriously cause harm to a person or animal. There are many routes to show compliance for each market or region If global markets for electrical safety is required then CB scheme certificates will allow international recognition for the 54 participating countries providing that each country variation (if any) is applied and listed in the certificate.
Radio communications or Radio performance
Different regions use different radio bands for different purposes and although many modern radio communication devices including short-range transmitters and transceivers such as Bluetooth and WiFi (802.11) products use the same technology the evidence required to show compliance may differ. In some case although the same technology is used the frequency bands used and transmit maximum power levels may vary, this could result in a non-compliant product depending upon the region of distribution. The regulating bodies want to ensure the RF spectrum is used effectively and ensure communications are not hampered by rogue non-compliant transmitters and transceivers that may cause interference to other devices and services such as emergency communications. The FCC is strict with regards to compliance of what they refer to as ‘intentional radiators’ and typically require an authorised person or body such as a Technical Certification Body (TCB) to review and approve compliance testing documentation before an FCC ID is issued that would allow the lawful distribution of the product in North America.
Telecommunication compliance may seem non-safety-related but there are many aspects that could affect safety in the real world. Simple effects would be network jamming, this could prevent emergency calls for help from being connected to the appropriate services. Alternatively the ability to use the emergency call feature of the cellular phone in an emergency even when your network provider call service is limited. All mobile phones sold in Australia and manufactured since January 2002 provide roaming capabilities when dialing Triple Zero (000) to access the emergency call service.
Human exposure to Radio Frequency (RF) fields
As per the other electrical safety aspect, human exposure to RF transmitter or intentional radiators such as mobile phones has been a concern and regularly appears online in articles. The basis of the risk that it poses is to the health of a person(s) including the long-term effects. There are regulatory guidelines for varying regions to determine the allowable RF exposure levels and if testing is required. In Australia, transmitters must meet safe electromagnetic energy (EME) emission limits set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). Many products are exempt from testing due to the low RF output power and the distance from a person that the product would be used. However for many products Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) Testing may still be required, such as many modern cellular mobile phones.
Similar to all of the above mandated Regulatory Compliance Mark (RCM) requirements for Australia the Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) testing is also required and is very important. In Australia currently for most products only emissions, EMC/EMI testing is required. Many people ask why is EMC testing required. It’s a simple answer, to ensure that a product does not, in this case, generate Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) that may affect either other devices in the environment or services such as radio communications or telecommunications including emergency services etc. For a more robust product and also mandated for many regions such as Europe (CE mark) and required types of products i.e. medical products, immunity testing is also required. Click the link for further reading about why EMC testing is important.
What are the laws and fines for non-compliant devices in Australia?
The supplier including an importer must adhere to the AMCA compliance requirements for each of their products. The term importer also can apply to eBay sellers, i.e. importing devices over the internet for shipment from an overseas supplier to a recipient within Australia. Adherence includes updating compliance evidence if they modify a product from the original product that compliance testing was demonstrated with.
The ACMA attempt to make it clear through their website the requirements of Australian product compliance, however, if required they can seek court action through prosecution for non-compliant products.
The fines for non-compliance as per the ACMA website on 03 January 2017 (website page last updated 22 March 2016) was as follows:
Under section 160 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992, a person must not supply a device that the person knows is a non-standard device. This offence could incur a court-imposed penalty of up to $21,600 if the offender is an individual. Otherwise, this penalty could be up to $270,000. It is also an offence (under section 187 of the Act) to apply a compliance label before meeting the requirements of the relevant labelling notice(s), including appropriate testing. The court-imposed penalty for this offence may be up to $18,000.
What are the fines for North America?
A recent example of what may happen if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigate your product and it is found to be operating outside the parameters of the FCC regulations i.e. FCC Part 15 in the following article it relates to Radio transmitters or intentional radiators capable of operating outside of authorized amateur radio service bands; FCC Resolves Case of Unlicensed Marketing of RF Devices with the full text of the Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) of the Federal Communications Commission here. A Google search of ‘Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) of the Federal Communications Commission fines’ will provide many more cases where the FCC has fined companies to protect consumers and secure communications networks. Additional information and other FCC violations may also be found on the FCC Enforcement Bureau’s Home Page.
Ensure your product meets all the regulatory and other mandated compliance requirements prior to going to market! The mandated requirements are put in place for a purpose these may include safety reasons. In addition to the legalities of product testing, you should also consider your company image and the desirability of your product, non-compliant products may adversely affect the end-user or hinder those around. If you are thinking of having your product compliance-tested for Australia then you should ensure that the testing is done correctly! If you do have to demonstrate product compliance to a regulatory body for the region of sale you should have confidence that the evidence will pass scrutiny. Accredited testing ensures that the testing laboratory has demonstrated competency in performing the test as per their scope of accreditation. Be mindful that many testing laboratories are ISO 17025 accredited, this means that they have a quality system in place, it is much better to ensure that they are also accredited for the testing standard that your product falls under the scope of. To read more about the type of questions you should ask an EMC testing facility, please have a quick read of the Real cost for cheap EMC compliance testing.