Navigating the maze of electronic device certification can seem daunting. Proper certification is as important as any other step in designing a wireless product and preparing to launch it. The regulatory phase of a design cycle may seem like an afterthought, but the process of receiving or lack of certifications can play a significant role in a product’s time to market.
Figure 1: A cellular device includes a modem, module, and chipset
Source: Laird Connectivity
1.What are the different types of cellular hardware?
There are three types of cellular hardware: chipsets, modules, and modems (Figure 1).
- Chipsets: A chipset is a group of integrated circuits that handles fundamental RF functions like frequency control and authentication with a cellular network. Chipsets do not require certifications. Some of the most commonly used cellular chipsets are from Qualcomm, Intel, and Sequans.
- Module: A cellular module incorporates chipsets (Figure 2) and is equipped with a processor, memory, and power supply. It also includes module level certifications. Some of the module providers are Telit and Nordic.
- Modem (End-Device Certified): A modem incorporates a cellular module with additional features such as hardware interfaces, antenna design, and SIM card slots. A modem can sometimes include additional radios such as GPS/GNSS, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. A modem’s required End-Device Certification eliminates the need for additional testing and certification by customers. Some examples of modems are Nimbelink, Multitech, Janus, Digi, and Signetik.
Figure 2: A cellular module incorporates a chipset and provides additional features.
2.Why do you need different certifications?
Certifications are crucial to wireless device designs. Cellular carriers require that an end product meet certain requirements for over the air (OTA) performance. This insures compatibility between all devices. Failure to receive certifications can cause setbacks in getting a product to market and delay a product’s timeline.
3.What is the difference between module level certifications, modem certifications, and end-device certification?
Typically, a modem already has an antenna integrated in a design, whereas a module doesn’t. Therefore, a module requires additional testing for the whole system. Antenna design is one of the most important considerations for wireless certifications. Antenna selection, desired location, and antenna trace are just a few important aspects of antenna design.
4.What are the different types of certifications?
- Regulatory: Government Level Certification
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
- The Certification and Engineering Bureau of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED)
- Radio Equipment Directive (RED)
- Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFETEL)
- Industry: industry requirements for wireless devices operating on mobile networks
- Global Certification Forum (GCF)
- PCS Type Certification Review Board (PTCRB)
- Mobile Network Operator (MNO) approvals: Carrier level certifications
- Carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile
5.What are regulatory certifications?
Regulatory approvals are country-specific and are compulsory to legally place equipment on the market. In the US, the FCC is the regulatory body for wireless devices. Any device which uses radio frequency must get an Equipment Authorization prior to entering the North American market.
For Canadian markets, the same function is performed by The Certification and Engineering Bureau of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED).
In most cases, customers can leverage a “modular approval” grant and a module’s FCC ID. An end-device will need to be in compliance with the FCC grant letter in order to do so. A few examples that usually need to be met to leverage module’s FCC ID include the gain of the antenna used, the device’s proximity to users (a device should not be used within 20cm of a human body), and a device’s cellular radio must not be co-located with another radio within the same device.
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