International Radio Frequency Approvals

How to deal with international wireless regulations for exporting a product

11 October 2012

Cassidy head shot

Editor’s note: Michael Cassidy is the founder of MC Global Access, a company based in San Diego, that provides product certifications for telecommunications, IT, and household equipment.

Let’s say your team wants to sell its newest wireless product internationally. Perhaps customers are already lining up for it in far corners of the globe, or maybe your marketing department is considering whether it makes sense to sell it in a particular region. One thing is certain: after your company has given the green light to sell your product in a new country, any time lost is money lost—and maybe even lost market share. And because you are trying to export a wireless product, you face regulatory hurdles. Each country’s RF spectrum or communications authority makes its own rules. Some are simple and others elaborate, but knowing them in advance is the key to efficiently exporting your project.

I admit, this may sound obvious: “Of course the spectrum authority dictates the parameters for the use of its RF spectrum,” you say. (As a side note: I throw around RF very casually and mean any frequency lower than terahertz). The key is to know what the authority’s rules mean for your device. Specifically, what it will take to approve your device in that particular country.

If you are new to international wireless regulations, then (spoiler alert) the principal factors you need to understand are lead time, technical parameters, and cost. You want to know these parameters to avoid surprises and to have an accurate roadmap for your global launch.

If you are looking to get your wireless product into several new countries, you can expect vastly different lead times. With the right connections and knowledge of the application process, it’s possible to get approval in under a week in some countries. Others will take a few months. Sometimes external events such as government instability or a natural disaster can shut down the whole process for several months. A handful of countries require you to test your product at local labs; this means time spent shipping products, getting through customs, testing the product, preparing test results, and more. Therefore, a certain amount of lead time is inherent to that country’s RF approval process. However, you should avoid unnecessary delays by ensuring you don’t lose time during any step of the process. For example, know the test parameters and don’t fail testing. Also, have all the documents you need at hand.

There are too many to name in one blog piece and you may have already fallen asleep at your computer or tablet device. (I know international compliance isn’t the most exciting field, but it’s important). Frequency and output power are the obvious biggies and also a little bit deceptive. What those in the United States may think of as a license-free frequency (i.e. industrial, scientific, and medical—or ISM) is probably going to require product certification in the country you are looking. While you won’t have to attend any spectrum auctions in Turkmenistan for your 2.4 gigaherz device, you will likely need to approve it with the telecommunications agency. Further, do not assume the frequency and output power you’ve been using in your country are allowed in another. If you’re in an ISM band, chances are you’re good to go, but always check if you are entering the country for the first time. I’ve heard horror stories of manufacturers finding out at the last minute that their frequency is banned somewhere they were expecting to sell their invention. It is tragic, in part, because it is avoidable.

The costs vary by country and product type. Countries that require local testing are generally the most expensive. If you are only expecting to sell a few units, but are looking at dealing with lab and certification fees you may want to ditch the country and sell somewhere else. Having an estimate of pricing early will help with budgeting.

Finally, if your team is hinting at selling your RF device in a new country, investigate it early. It’s better to gather the requirements for the country and end up not going there than to scramble at the last minute. Now, go forth and enter new markets.


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the bloggers and do not represent official positions of The Institute or IEEE.

Image: Ryan Burke iStockphoto; Photo: Michele Cohn

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