Author Topic: Ignore the FCC?  (Read 9117 times)

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Offline Poe

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Ignore the FCC?
« on: September 09, 2013, 03:03:11 pm »
Wireless projects are trendy now, but most lack FCC compliance testing. 

1. Illegal?  What are the fines?
2. Is this common?  Does cost of testing simply outweigh the chance of being caught and/or fine amount?
3. Do you think most would pass anyway?  I have my doubts after our project with an "FCC Pre-certified Module" was just rejected on the first go-round of testing.
4. How should one approach wireless projects intended to be sold commercially?   i.e. Modules with no testing, farm the entire thing out to consultants, hire a specialist, or some other path? :-//

Even though bluetooth/wifi/ant/etc modules have become popular lately, I have always stayed away of wireless projects for fear of FCC fines and other unknowns.  We've been getting too many requests for wireless projects so I need to bite the bullet and dive in.  Anyone have good book/link/recommendation?

Disclaimer, I know nothing about FCC regulations and only the basics of wireless communication.
 

Offline saturation

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2013, 07:30:32 pm »
All is know is the FCC fine for willfully or negligently allowing interference from a device [aka not doing anything to prevent it], varies for each law governing a device [ fines are different for radios vs say PCs], begins at $10,000 per instance, aka per device, and goes up from there, and depending on the law, include jail time.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2013, 07:32:55 pm by saturation »
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 Saturation
 

Offline tesla500

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2013, 07:58:33 pm »
Technically any device you make needs to comply with FCC regulations, not just ones that intentionally transmit radio. If you're using a preapproved module, that's a very good start, as it's been tested and complies with the regulations. If you're selling the devices, you still (technically) need to do EMI compliance scans for the final device the module is in.
 

Offline pickle9000

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2013, 08:05:46 pm »
Are talking about a kit?
 

Offline JackOfVA

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2013, 11:37:04 pm »
If you are looking for the worst case, and if your device is manufactured off shore, US Customs can seize it. If you are really lucky you might be able to have it returned to the original country of manufacture and reworked.  Not saying this is a high probability, but the laws are on the books for it.

Depending on your volume requirements, the usual low volume solution is to look for an OEM compliant wireless device and drop that into your gadget.

I assume you already have FCC compliance done for your device - been a while since I worked in the area but as I remember the rule, any digital device with a clock > 10 KHz had to meet certain emission rules.

If you don't have access to a lawyer that practices in the area of telecommunications law and decide that you need one, send me a PM and I'll give you the contact information for someone I trust.
 

Offline ataradov

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2013, 12:31:03 am »
Can you point out commercial products that lack FCC certification?

Evaluation boards can be used without FCC certification in the lab environment (with some limitations).

I work with wireless products as my day job and I don't see customers trying to avoid FCC, quite opposite, people are ready to pay 3-5 times premium on modules that are FCC certified, so they don't have to re-certify their product.
Alex
 

Offline Corporate666

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2013, 02:34:05 am »

I work with wireless products as my day job and I don't see customers trying to avoid FCC, quite opposite, people are ready to pay 3-5 times premium on modules that are FCC certified, so they don't have to re-certify their product.

I thought they do still have to re-certify their product? 

Are you saying if I use an off-the-shelf FCC approved module, I don't need to do any further FCC testing on my device, and I can label it FCC compliant?  That would be great!
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Offline ataradov

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2013, 02:38:48 am »
Yes, but it is important that module has modular certification (as opposed to the device certification, so you can't take another FCC certified product and make it a part of your product). And it must be the only component in the device with intentional radiation.

There are also some limitations on antenna design if modules allows external antenna connection - you basically need to use the same antenna design as was used during the certification. Module manufacturers are aware of this and usually give recommendations on the antenna design. This is also why people love modules with chip antennas - no need to worry about all this.

 
Alex
 

Offline ataradov

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2013, 02:42:06 am »
Here is a document from Atmel for our modules, but it applies to any other manufacturer as well http://www.atmel.com/Images/doc42037.pdf.
Alex
 

Offline ElectroIrradiator

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2013, 08:29:17 am »
Yes, but it is important that module has modular certification (as opposed to the device certification, so you can't take another FCC certified product and make it a part of your product). And it must be the only component in the device with intentional radiation.

(...)

(Emphasis added.)

This does not seem to agree with what is in the document you linked. If there are additional switching circuits, whether intentionally radiating or otherwise, then you are likely to need re-certification. Whether your widgets includes an FCC approved module doesn't seem to make much difference here, as it shouldn't. See Scenario #2 on page 2.

There was a small US manufacturer of audio gear, who got stung by this problem some time ago. They included MCUs and whatnot on a product without FCC certification, and a shipment was intercepted at the US border. End up costing them a significant sum, several million USD as the story goes, though I have no first hand knowledge of the actual facts of the situation.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2013, 08:31:17 am by ElectroIrradiator »
 

Offline Poe

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2013, 02:01:03 pm »
... $10,000 per instance, aka per device, and goes up from there, and depending on the law, include jail time.

Ouch.
Testing looks more attractive, but it surely kills all profit margin on a low volume run.  Maybe that's why they chance it?  What does FCC testing normally cost?  My fellow engineer said a couple thousand USD and a few weeks so long as it isn't a device that is body mounted.... apparently that requires SAR testing and is expensive?

Can you point out commercial products that lack FCC certification?
...

Things like the Ubertooth, HackRF, etc.  Devices or robots (transmitter side) on reseller sites like Sparkfun with no FCC IDs.  That kind of stuff. 

Even some mid-volume products appear to violate rules.  It's not too uncommon to see customer replaceable antennas attached to precertified modules.  Some of those same assemblies don't bother to place the module's FCC ID on the outside of their packaging. 




 

Offline ataradov

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #11 on: September 10, 2013, 03:51:02 pm »
What does FCC testing normally cost?
The lowest price is around $12000, for a first time certification I'd count on something like $15000-20000. You will get down to lower price if you don't spend much time in the lab, so you need to be prepared in advance. Actual testing usually takes one day, then 2-3 days for paperwork.

Things like the Ubertooth, HackRF, etc.  Devices or robots (transmitter side) on reseller sites like Sparkfun with no FCC IDs.  That kind of stuff. 
All this is sold as development kits, they don't need certification.

Pre-certified modules make sense on 1k quantities, but starting at 10k it is usually cheaper to do a certification and save money on the modules.

You will find switching power supplies in almost any modern electronics, if done right, it does not affect radio module.  On the other hand, even a simple power switch can cause a lot of interference due to sparks on inductive load, etc. In the end certification is a responsibility of the manufacturer.
Alex
 

Offline Poe

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #12 on: September 10, 2013, 04:35:48 pm »
Thanks for the info.  I wasn't aware of the evaluation board or development kit exception.  Surely they define what qualifies for this exception.  Is it a simple definition, or something like two pages of grey area?

...
 In the end certification is a responsibility of the manufacturer.

Responsibility is another thing I'm curious about.  We are a contract manufacturer, so we build to a design that is rarely our own. Occationally we build 99.9% of the product, then our customer simply puts it in a pretty box with a manual an antenna which they supply.  In the FCC's eyes, are we responsible for the product's certification even though we didn't design it?

Intentional Radiators are what I was initially thinking about, but as JackOfVA mentioned, testing for unintentional sources when you have a known clock source over 10kHz is required as well, correct?  Would we be just as responsible for these products?  ...What if we designed and build it for a customer that didn't want to deal with testing?

Sorry for all the questions, but with so much potential for trouble, I'm surprised it's not discussed more often.
 

Offline ataradov

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #13 on: September 10, 2013, 04:48:55 pm »
Thanks for the info.  I wasn't aware of the evaluation board or development kit exception.  Surely they define what qualifies for this exception.  Is it a simple definition, or something like two pages of grey area?
Grey area. There are some words somewhere about laboratory use only. If you think about it, before you go to FCC, you need to do development and testing. Supposedly those kits don't have a proper software on them, so they don't transmit anything by default, and you don't need certification for non-functioning radios.

Responsibility is another thing I'm curious about.  We are a contract manufacturer, so we build to a design that is rarely our own. Occationally we build 99.9% of the product, then our customer simply puts it in a pretty box with a manual an antenna which they supply.  In the FCC's eyes, are we responsible for the product's certification even though we didn't design it?
Your customer is responsible. In the end, they might decide to ship the product with radio module disabled in the software, and you don't need to certify non-functioning equipment.

Intentional Radiators are what I was initially thinking about, but as JackOfVA mentioned, testing for unintentional sources when you have a known clock source over 10kHz is required as well, correct?
I have no idea for this one, but I don't think people are as much concerned about non-intentional radiation.

Sorry for all the questions, but with so much potential for trouble, I'm surprised it's not discussed more often.
FCC is made of people, and different people might read differently into the standard. So your experience may vary.
Alex
 

Offline Neilm

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2013, 06:19:47 pm »

Intentional Radiators are what I was initially thinking about, but as JackOfVA mentioned, testing for unintentional sources when you have a known clock source over 10kHz is required as well, correct?
I have no idea for this one, but I don't think people are as much concerned about non-intentional radiation.


Unintentional radiation would be general EMC compliance. I believe that in the States the emissions of a unit have to be below certain levels or else you can't sell it. I do know of reported  cases where installations or equipment has been taken off line with an FCC enforcement order forbidding its use. (not what you want on your new POS system the day before your new shopping mall opens)

If you are planning on selling to the EU, the requirements are worse as many thing types of device require immunity testing as well.
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Offline saturation

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #15 on: September 10, 2013, 08:11:07 pm »
Yes, the fine is ~ as much as it would cost to get your design FCC certified; so its very cost effective as once certified for a design, its one and done.  The good news its most often only the end product manufacturer who is responsible for emissions; the subcontactors or submodules are not necessarily involved unless these modules can be sold as stand alone products, .e.g. radio amplifiers.  If you sell products as a kit, you may be able to circumvent most regulatory bodies, FCC, CPSC etc., as the assembler takes the responsibility.  I think the FCC made exceptions for RF jammer kits, and can hold kit seller, kit assembler and even the designer, liable.

As for enforcement of the rules, it only becomes a problem usually if someone complains or your product becomes high profile [ then, as a backstab your competitors complain to the FCC].  If a device goes unnoticed for years then years later the FCC finds out, there is no statue of limitations, and they can provide the sanctions and fines retroactively for the years you had the device on the market.

Bottom line, the hassle isn't worth the cost of not getting FCC approved.  If you are a subcontractor, insure your device cannot function as a turnkey device [ i.e., supply no power] so it cannot be used as it comes out of your facility without added work by the assembler.

... $10,000 per instance, aka per device, and goes up from there, and depending on the law, include jail time.

Ouch.
Testing looks more attractive, but it surely kills all profit margin on a low volume run.  Maybe that's why they chance it?  What does FCC testing normally cost?  My fellow engineer said a couple thousand USD and a few weeks so long as it isn't a device that is body mounted.... apparently that requires SAR testing and is expensive?

Even some mid-volume products appear to violate rules.  It's not too uncommon to see customer replaceable antennas attached to precertified modules.  Some of those same assemblies don't bother to place the module's FCC ID on the outside of their packaging. 

...
Best Wishes,

 Saturation
 

Online tom66

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Re: Ignore the FCC?
« Reply #16 on: September 12, 2013, 10:16:16 pm »
I was told there's an exception coming into CE law to make lower-volume items easier to certify, or so I was told. If you use CE-certified radio modules (if you have a module) and follow "accepted engineering practices" (with minimal risk, and by comparing to similar products on the market where available) then you can certify on paperwork alone, without testing. Is it the case? One of the engineers at the company I worked at told me this, though they still CE certify all their commercial products in a test chamber.
 


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