The FCC & Wireless Devices: System vs Modular Approval

The FCC & Wireless Devices: System vs Modular Approval
The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulates the radiation standards that all electronic components must comply with. The official stance of the FCC is a standardization of "interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable." The goal is to make sure devices aren't radiating at frequencies or power outputs that are outside predefined ranges, and could cause interference or harm to the surrounding environment, equipment, or people.

Internet SecurityThere are two approaches to getting wireless devices approved for use by the FCC. The first is the more traditional route, system approval. System approval is the scope of approval for equipment containing a radio. "System" in this scenario pertains to the entire enclosure, radio, ancillary electronics, power supply, and antenna. There isn't a need for approval of individual components, but these components must remain the same, or else a new approval is required. It is a single certification for a unique combination of radios and host devices. Add or subtract one radio, and you have a new certification on your to-do list. Though system approval may sound simple enough – one system, one certification – it requires a new approval process for any and all changes made. And as technology adapts and evolves quicker with each passing year, your wireless device system will need adaptations, which are going to cost you in approval fees and time lost due to application submittals.

Wireless TowerThen there’s modular approval. Modular approval is limited to just the radio module. Per the FFC's definition of it, a module is comprised of an entirely self-contained transmitter that needs only an input signal and power source in order to be fully operational. It is required to have its own reference oscillator, shielding, antenna, etc. Modules were designed to be part of another, larger device, like a personal computer or utility meter. Modular approval follows the course of the radio – it is independent of the host device. If condition requirements are met, the module can be installed into a system without having to obtain new authorization. Because of this, modular approval is often less expensive and saves time. There is no new equipment authorization necessary for new devices, and no new testing and waiting period. It effectively establishes a common radio interface across multiple host devices. Once all approval certifications are met, and pending no further changes to the model or its antennas, the module can be used inside the host device without requiring further testing.

Whether you prefer system or modular scopes of approval, wireless communications and EMC conducted immunity and emissions equipment is necessary to test to FCC compliance, specifically to EN-301-489. To learn more about the types of equipment needed for FCC wireless approval, please feel free to contact our Communications and EMC teams at ATEC at 800-404-2832.