It’s true that you can expedite or even avoid some certification tests of your finished product if you use pre-certified parts (like an end-certified cellular module). It’s critical to note, however, that using a pre-certified device for your product doesn’t guarantee that it will pass or even skip a compliance test. (I know — this flummoxed me at first, too.)
There are four levels, so to speak, of pre-certified radios that are “put down” on a device. In order to choose the right solution for your product, you should ask yourself three things:
- What is my anticipated annual production volume?
- What is the cost of goods sold (COGS) target?
- How quickly does it need to get to market?
While actual certification requirements will be much more nuanced than the information provided below, it helps to have a general understanding of how these three questions ultimately will impact radio device selection.
Note: the manufacturers and components listed below are not endorsements, but examples.
- Chipset: This solution requires the selection of the integrated circuit (IC) itself along with all the required supporting circuitry.
- Qualcomm is perhaps the best-known manufacturer of cellular chipsets.
- Texas Instruments provides several chipsets for ISM applications with their CC series.
- Module (often called a pre-certified module): Modules that require a host circuit board.
- Contains an RF chipset plus other components.
- If power were applied only to the module itself, it would be unable to operate.
- May require an external RF connector, SIM card, and/or other minimal circuitry.
- Cellular module manufacturers include Telit, U-Blox, and Sierra Wireless.
- Microchip provides several WiFi and/or Bluetooth modules.
- The end-product must go through additional testing because it is an intentional radiator.
- End-Certified Module: These are typically devices that are pluggable via standard connectors or they are soldered onto a host PCB.
- Essentially, it is a module, but it adds in the external antenna/RF path (perhaps an interface controller) and, for cellular, the SIM card.
- If powered, they could operate on some minimalistic level, if not fully.
- Companies like Digi have both cellular and ISM offerings.
- Multitech and Nimbelink also have cellular end-certified modules.
- The end-product must go through basic FCC and UL testing because it contains an intentional radiator that has been independently approved.
- “Inherits” the module certification.
- Dev-Kit: Essentially an end-certified module.
- Can typically plug into a USB connector or other common household style of connector.
- Primarily suited for prototype and proof-of-concept deployments.
It is important to note that, more often than not, devices including ISM technologies are going to be fairly straightforward as far as compliance testing is concerned. For end-products utilizing a cellular connection, however, there may be carrier testing, in addition to FCC and UL testing, required if not using an end-certified module.
For a module, the radio itself may have been certified, however, your device is almost certainly using it in a new configuration, may use a different PCB material, or it is used in conjunction with another product that alters the radio’s performance. However, on an end-certified module, the relationship between the various components of the radio is fixed, and the material of the PCB is guaranteed not to change. There is also generally a controller on an end-certified module that takes commands from the host processor and then interfaces with the RF chipset.
Putting Your Certification Knowledge Into Action
Now that you know why you should care about IoT product compliance, who the major players are in the space, and how these rules apply to your device, how do you get started certifying your product?
In Part 3 of this guide, we will review the costs and the process for certification so that you can approach your next product release with confidence.
If you’re looking for an expert IoT firm to guide you through product development, we’re here to help. Reach out to Very today.