Radio frequency transmitters have been around for as long as the radio itself, but in the last few decades, the technology has taken on a much more prominent role in the communications industry - and in our daily lives. During the 1980s, testing labs began getting involved in RF testing and certification, initially for video game consoles. But in the 1990s, once wireless technology really starting becoming available for everyone, the need for RF regulatory compliance and oversight started to take off.
TÜV SÜD's resident wireless testing expert Kirby Munroe has had a hand in the industry for more than 20 years, with a number of testing and cellular technology organizations. The firm he managed for 13 years, Advanced Compliance solutions, was acquired by TUV SUD in February 2017. Prior to that, he worked at Motorola in southern Florida with their personal communications and device sectors, before which he ran a full EMI lab owned by the Florida Atlantic university in Boca Raton. He's been involved in the industry even before he left college, in fact.
Licensed vs. unlicensed
It's a big time for RF capabilities. Most smartphones alone probably have four or five radio transmitters - and that's just the tip of the iceberg. It helps to divide the devices into two main categories: Licensed and unlicensed.
Unlicensed devices include WiFi, Bluetooth, NSC, and short-range transmitters. They have to be certified, but not licensed by the FCC.
Licensed devices include the cellular stuff, though smartphones contain both types. Licensing means a company like ATT or Verizon owns a frequency band and they're the only ones authorized to operate within that band. They build their infrastructure around it and they employ it as they see fit - however, FCC regulations around basic cell phone operation and similar items still apply.
TÜV SÜD tests just about everything across both of those categories, with the exception of a few devices with special waveforms.
The biggest challenges within wireless testing have involved the way everything has grown far more complex across the board - from the transmitters in a wireless mouse to those in medical devices. As a result, regulatory bodies release new rules with greater frequency. A few decades ago, all in all, there were 10 standards that covered almost everything. Now there are hundreds, and they change daily.
"I'm going to be ensuring and assisting all of these labs to make sure they have what they need to test to the latest standards and technologies," says Kirby.
Three big areas of growth
While the wireless device rules and compliance grow ever more sophisticated, there are also several exciting trends that Kirby and his team have been watching and preparing for. Here are three of the biggest ones:
1. The new European directive
The EU has completely the Radio and Telecommunications Directive with the Radio Equipment Directive - and that's taken up a lot of the organization and Kirby's attention recently. Organizations within the EU have had to assess whether or not their devices will comply with the new directive, requiring a full gap analysis.
"Europe is completely different from the FCC system in the United States - it's a self-declaration process where you test against the standards that are referenced in the directive, and you self-declare your own product."
2. High-frequency and wireless testing
Right now, many labs can test for 2.4 gHz unlicensed devices like WiFi and NSC, while a smaller group can test licensed devices - cellular and satellite. TÜV SÜD can handle both, which gives access to a broader slice of the market. But even that's not as important as what's to come - high-frequency transmitters.
"It's one the directions that technology is moving in a little bit - there's definitely going to be demand for it," says Kirby. "High-frequency testing sets us apart from some of our other competitors, having that capability."
Overall, TUV SUD is expanding its capabilities into a variety of new specialties, such as ultra-wideband testing in Raleigh, California, and an automated test system for Bluetooth and WiFi in Alpharetta, Georgia.
3. Global market access
The world is more connected than ever - meaning the world's organizations want to sell their products in more than just their home region. These days, clients go to TÜV SÜD looking for compliance testing that will allow them to go to market in North America, Canada, Europe, East Asia - essentially, all over the world.
TÜV SÜD's global market access group researches what it takes to get a device to market in specific regions all over the world. They hope to give customers a path to each of those regions. In that scenario, TÜV SÜD clients would be able to accomplish all of their compliance and regulatory goals in one fell swoop.
Those three developments will keep Kirby, his testing facilities, and TÜV SÜD at large busy for some time to come, but they also represent major opportunities. As the industry and marketplace continues to change, Kirby's team is poised to take full advantage and deliver the types of services companies will need.