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CE/FCC certification not mandatory?
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CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by Rodot on Fri Mar 17, 2017 10:30 am

Hello,

I’m a frequent user of your products and breakout boards… I love them.
But I was wondering, most of the of them don't seem to be CE/FCC certified.
As I’m planning to sell a few electronic dev products myself, I was wondering how can you sell non CE/FCC compliant products legally? Is it because they are kits? Or because they are considered “components” instead of “products”? Or because they are development tools? Or you simply ignore the rules?
I would really appreciate any advice about this.

Thank you very much !
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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by adafruit_support_mike on Sat Mar 18, 2017 12:09 am

Because of our FONA boards, we're officially listed as a cellphone manufacturer. We have a good and regular working relationship with our FCC reps.

Everything we sell that needs to be certified is certified. We'd be in a lot of trouble if it wasn't.

The key to understanding the need for certification is to be clear abour the part that actually generates the RF signal, and the parts that are simply connected to it. As an very broad example, the Feather HUZZAH uses an ESP8266 module which is FCC certified. If you want to power it from a pair of AA cells, you don't have to take the batteries in and get them certified before you connect them.

At a narrower level, the same is true for the other components on the PCB.. the voltage regulator, LiPo charger, USB-to-Serial converter, etc. Those parts don't generate signals that require certification individually, and collectively don't change the ESP8266's emission profile in a way that exceeds the module's existing certification.

As with any other kind of engineering, it boils down to reading the relevant documentation and checking with experts to make sure you understand it correctly. The folks at the FCC know the laws and technologies, and are willing to work with anyone who shows an interest in getting things right before causing problems.

That said, it helps if you approach certification issues from the correct direction. If you ask, "should I have this board certified?" you'll probably get a response to the effect that it can't hurt.. which is technically true for the person saying it because they won't be the one paying a certification lab $5k-to-$10k. The lab, meanwhile, will happily take that money to run its tests on a doorknob. The answers get more nuanced if you ask, "is there any existing exemption that could apply to this part of this board?" and "what legal risk would I assume if I sold the board without this part being certified?"

And as always, the more of your own research and thought you bring to the table, the more productive the conversation will be.

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by Rodot on Tue May 23, 2017 7:02 am

Thank you for your answer.
My researches lead me to know that every electronic product should be CE certified (for Europe) even if it doesn't include voluntary radio emission (I know more about CE than FCC as I'm from France), as it covers many other things : RoHS, unwanted emissions levels, EMC immunity, ESD immunity etc. Even if you just sell 5 of them. You can self-certify to spare the 5-10k€ from the lab, but you need to have to proofs you tested it properly. You can get the tests done (without the certification) for 2-3k€ from a lab. Of course the price depends a lot on what's you're product.
But, because there is a but, *components* don't have to be certified. The blurry zone here is the distinction between a "product" and a "component". A product should work on it's own. So the ESP8266 isn't a product for exemple, but the fact that it's already certified helps a lot to get the product using it also certified. An Arduino UNO board would be a product as you can just plug it and use it without further integration. I don't have the answer for products sold as a kit.
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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by adafruit_support_mike on Wed May 24, 2017 12:45 am

FCC regulations contain a section discussing the rules for kits. The basic principle is mostly common sense: you can't sell devices that violate FCC rules by leaving a few parts unconnected and saying, "but it's a kit!"

Broadly speaking, what you sell as a kit includes a promise that the end product will be legal to own and operate, as long as it's assembled according to your instructions.

You get the same promise from a vendor who makes RF devices. The device certification contains a list of operating conditions that have been tested and shown to comply with the relevant laws. Those conditions will include things like connection to a power supply and the SPI interface between a radio module and a microcontroller. As long as your connections to the module match the conditions specified in the module's cert, you're okay.

The questions to keep in mind are:

1) Am I connecting anything to a certified device in a way that isn't already covered by the device's certification?

2) Does anything connected to a certified device carry RF signals that are strong enough to require certification on their own?

3) Does anything outside the certified device generate and/or carry signals in the regulated bands at a power level that would require certification?

When in doubt, ask the relevant authorities. Regulators *like* people who come in ahead of time and ask, "what rules apply to what I want to do, and what options do I have for making sure I've obeyed them?" If you find someone whose only answer is, "you have to certify on any day whose name contains a vowel," find someone else who's willing to have a more detailed conversation.

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by nardev on Tue Sep 12, 2017 10:13 pm

Very interesting topic.

I'm just bit concerned about few very common things in real life.

1. How come some products, shipped from out of EU/USA are sent and sold only online and don't have any certification. How are those products treated?

2. In case, someone build a product which is consisted of only FCC/CE certified modules and the only non certified "part" is PCB which connects modules and might have some passive components on it. How is that device considered?

3. In case you have a test product that you are willing to sell as in 1., you don't have huge quantity, perhaps 100-1000 pcs, you don't have established brand or reseller network, what and who can stop you from doing that and how is that done in real world. Any examples pls?

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by adafruit_support_mike on Wed Sep 13, 2017 2:22 am

nardev wrote:1. How come some products, shipped from out of EU/USA are sent and sold only online and don't have any certification. How are those products treated?

It depends on what they do.

FCC enforcement tends to be reactive rather than proactive. They get involved with something causes trouble and gets noticed. Their initial response is usually, "turn it off," with the severity increasing based on the amount of trouble that was caused.

I would imagine that there are millions of noncompliant low-power devices in the US that have been bought from grey-market sources, but that, for the most part, they don't cause enough trouble to warrant FCC intervention. A lot of online grey-market business comes from overseas groups that change their business identity more often than most people change their sheets, and are basically impossible to prosecute.

That doesn't mean the FCC would go easy on any they were able to catch and prosecute though.

nardev wrote:2. In case, someone build a product which is consisted of only FCC/CE certified modules and the only non certified "part" is PCB which connects modules and might have some passive components on it. How is that device considered?

A PCB doesn't generate signals, and as long as it doesn't contain features that change the antenna profile or do funky things to the frequencies, it can't change the emission profile.

The standard extension to that line of reasoning is, "you don't have to recertify a radio when you change its batteries." The FCC only cares about emitters.

nardev wrote:3. In case you have a test product that you are willing to sell as in 1., you don't have huge quantity, perhaps 100-1000 pcs, you don't have established brand or reseller network, what and who can stop you from doing that and how is that done in real world. Any examples pls?

If you have a device that needs to be certified, don't get it certified, and sell it to others, you've broken federal law.. pretty simple. You can consult the FCC regs for penalties, but IIRC the phrase "$100k fine" is pretty early in the list.

As with all other criminal activity, the first calculation is, "don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by nardev on Wed Sep 13, 2017 2:43 am

Thank you for the comprehensive reply.

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by ArduinoGuru on Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:17 pm

Hi there,

I would also like to know about this! Since the sticker antenna used on the FONA boards is different than the ones used for SIMCom's FCC and CE testing, wouldn't you have to get the whole design re-certified? Unless, like Rodot pointed out, it's being sold as a "subassembly", which is allegedly how Sparkfun gets away with not certifying theirs.

Basically, what makes Adafruit special enough to not have to certify the products? Couldn't I also say "I've engineered the board to work well within the guidelines and fully understand what causes RF emissions, etc" and simply not certify it? I just don't seem to understand that. It's one thing to understand what causes RF and what doesn't, but it's another thing to play by the books it seems. I could design a perfectly working and acceptable design (if it were tested) and understand all the RF behind it but without the actual certification that doesn't mean anything, even if that means a good relationship with FCC employees. I'm not trying to be critical about Adafruit (I trust that such a large company knows what they're doing), but I'd like to know myself since I also have an Arduino shield I made.

Thanks!

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by ArduinoGuru on Tue Jan 02, 2018 9:27 pm

I think I found the answer. It's because shields, and most breakout boards and modules are considered "subassemblies". Read this Sparkfun article https://www.sparkfun.com/tutorials/398 and someone specifically asks, "are shields subassemblies?" and Sparkfun replies that yes they are.

I'm pretty sure this is also why Adafruit doesn't test their boards, otherwise it would be close to $40k to get it tested with a different antenna on it. (I got a quote on something similar before).


EDIT: Hmmmm, turns out that the "subassemblies" rule only applies to unintentional radiators, so unfortunately cellular boards aren't exempt under this category. However, maybe they're kits? This is seriously a taboo subject that no one wants to talk about and it's really frustrating.

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by adafruit_support_mike on Thu Jan 04, 2018 1:07 am

We're registered with the FCC as a cellphone manufacturer, we've done all the required testing on the FONA, and we have the very expensive paperwork to prove it. ;-)

As far as changing antennas goes, there's a small amount of slack for passive antennas. They're all basically dipoles and have negligible effect on the total amount of radiated power.. they're just a little more sensitive in one direction than in another. Radiated power is the FCC's major concern, and they know what each kind of antenna will do to any intentional emitter.

The difference between the FONA and other devices like the ESP8266 or our packet radio modules is that the modules are already certified and have a certified reference design. Our boards conform to those designs, and none of the hardware outside the module generates an RF signal or has any effect on the module's emission pattern. The shorthand summary is, "changing the batteries doesn't force recertification".

There are people who are fearless about spending someone else's money who'd disagree on that point, but we do have a good working relationship with our contacts at the FCC and we talk with them about what should be done.

It also helps that the non-FONA devices operate in unlicensed bands, and emit far less power than a cell module. FCC scrutiny is much tighter on things that can screw up a communications network of national/global importance.

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by ArduinoGuru on Thu Jan 04, 2018 1:35 am

Thanks for the reply! A few questions:
- What's involved with being considered a cellphone manufacturer?

- What's a small company's best bet for selling OSHW?

- The FCC rules don't make sense to me for things like cellular shields and modules. If, for example, a cellular shield is EMC-tested with an Arduino Uno as the host, how could that cover the case of using the shield with an RPi or Beaglebone? It's like you say about changing the batteries. Would a cellular shield be considered a "kit" and therefore be exempt from testing?

Thanks!

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by adafruit_support_mike on Thu Jan 04, 2018 4:35 am

ArduinoGuru wrote:What's involved with being considered a cellphone manufacturer?

A lot of communication with the FCC, a lot of paperwork, and a lot of money. Adafruit had to be on a pretty solid financial footing before we could seriously consider it, and the company has been in the black pretty much since day #1.

The first step is to find an FCC rep in your area and talk to them. They're good people, they know the rules inside out, and they're much happier to answer questions before you do something than to come in as enforcers after you do it.

ArduinoGuru wrote:What's a small company's best bet for selling OSHW?

Don't think of it as selling products.. by the definition of OSHW, anyone willing to invest the resources can sell the same product, and there's always someone with deeper pockets.

Our actual business revolves around services.. in order of relative importance: education, accesibility, and provisioning. The hardware ties into all of those, but the value lies in the intangibles.

Our first goal is to help people learn technology, primarily electronics hardware and code. These forums and the project tutorials in the Learning System are our main tools for doing that. In a given week I'll explain everything from how to measure voltage with a multimeter to transmission line theory, depending on how much background information the person asking questions has coming in. We see those as equally important if they help someone make the next step in understanding how to make stuff. The hardware tie-in is that we build the projects with our own boards (or more accurately, we sell the boards we use to build our own projects), and after a while we know the designs by heart.

Our second goal is to make the hardware of 2018 accessible to people who don't have a $100k pick-and-place line. Most of our breakouts carry devices that only come in QFN packages, which are beyond the hand-soldering skills of even experienced hackers. We provide the service of putting in a form most hackers can use. Again, over time, we learn the hardware inside out, and get good at teaching people how to use it.

The third service, provisioning, means we do all the legwork of sourcing parts, having PCBs made, and bringing all the pieces together. We have a lot of different suppliers, and can find/procure stuff that most people would never hear about otherwise. We played a strong part in making NeoPixels (WS28xx RGB LEDs with integrated PWM driver) a normal thing among Makers. That also includes things like paying for time in an EMF lab so we can FCC certify FONAs so the person who wants to make a remote sensor doesn't have to.


Whatever you want to build and sell, look at it from the perspective of someone who has your schematic and BOM. Even if you didn't publish them, reverse-engineering them isn't hard. Then ask yourself what you have that they don't, but which would be valuable to them. That's what you can build a business around.

ArduinoGuru wrote:The FCC rules don't make sense to me for things like cellular shields and modules. If, for example, a cellular shield is EMC-tested with an Arduino Uno as the host, how could that cover the case of using the shield with an RPi or Beaglebone?

Imagine putting the board in an RF lab with all the appropriate equipment plugged into an Arduino, then moving it to an adapter that connects it to a RasPi or BBB. What effect does that have on anything you can measure in an RF lab?

ArduinoGuru wrote:It's like you say about changing the batteries. Would a cellular shield be considered a "kit" and therefore be exempt from testing?

No, the cellular shield will always be an intentional emitter that requires certification (for cellular, hoo boy will it require certifcation). If you don't pay to have it certified yourself, you'll have to buy a certified module from someone else and follow the conditions of their certification to the letter.

The Arduino, RasPi, and BBB fall broadly under the heading of "fancy voltage regulator".

To the extent that an Arduino, RasPi, and BBB operate at frequencies that can generate RF signals at frequences and power levels the FCC cares about, the makers of those boards have had to get them certified. You'll find the markings on the PCB.

If you put the Arduino and cellular shield in an RF lab and simply plug them together.. no signals from the Arduino telling the cellular module what to do.. does it change the RF emission profile of either device? If not, there's nothing to certify.

If you send the cellular shield a set of control signals from the Arduino and measure the shield's RF output, then swap connections and send exactly the same set of signals from a RasPi or BBB, does the cellular shield's output change in any way? If not, again, there's nothing to certify.

In general, swapping the data connection from an Arduino to a data connection to a RasPi will have no more effect on the cellular shield's RF emission profile than swapping the Arduino's LM117 5v regulator for an LM7805 5v regulator, or changing the teal soldermask to yellow.

The first question to ask is always, "what's emitting signals the FCC might care about?" Then for any change, ask, "what effect will this change have on the measurable emissions of the thing the FCC cares about?" More generally, you don't just set a device on a table and certify it. You connect it to power, you send it control signals, you transmit messages with it, and so on. Those operating conditions are part of your certification.. "when connected to 5v power at pins X and Y" and so on. Those conditions are part of your certification.. the device is certified to operate under those conditions and no others. The report from the RF lab shows that the device complies with FCC regs when operating under those conditions.

If a change external to the certified device doesn't take the device outside its certified operating conditions, the FCC doesn't care.

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by ArduinoGuru on Thu Jan 04, 2018 10:54 am

Thanks for the reply! So say I'm using a SIM5320A. Even if I ensure I'm designing it according to the recommended specs of the pre certified module I still need to get it EMC tested for unintentional emmissions?

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by adafruit_support_mike on Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:51 am

Maybe.

That's a place where exact details make a big difference. Seriously.. moving the vias in the ground stitching around the antenna path or any high-frequency signal line will force recertification.

The only general answer that's possible is: you'll have to talk to the vendor who sells you a certified module to see what's allowed under their cert, and you'll have to talk to an FCC rep to make sure they agree with what the vendor says. Checking to see what's allowed doesn't cost anything but time though. The big cost is RF test lab time.. usually to the tune of about $5k per hour. The more legwork you do before taking a board into the lab, the less likely you are to get an unpleasant surprise.

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Re: CE/FCC certification not mandatory?

by HansBischoff on Fri Jul 20, 2018 5:28 pm

Dear Adafruit supoort group,

I love your RFM69HCW modules & plan to incorporate these in our products. Please advise if these modules have FCC & Industry Canada certificatiion ?
Regards, Hans

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