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Three-quarters of EU radio equipment is non-compliant

Self-certification works...for some

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

It may have been self-certified as compliant, but 76 per cent of radio equipment tested in 2003 failed to come up to EU spec. The figure rose to 88 per cent in 2006 - not surprisingly, a serious rethink of the legislation is imminent.

Since the introduction of the Radio & Telecommunications Terminal Equipment (R&TTE) directive in 2000 manufacturers have had the option to self-certify their products. But when a market surveillance campaign in 2003 checked up on 1,900 certified bits of kit, it found the majority weren’t up to scratch.

Apparently, at that time most of the failures were "administrative" - wrong labels on the packaging and the like - but a further sample of 150 bits of kit, carried out around 2006, found that 88 per cent of devices tested failed for technical reasons, reports PolicyTracker.

Prior to the R&TTE devices had to be certified for connection to any communications network - readers with long memories might remember the red circles and green triangles that could double the price of a modem. But since the directive came into force in 2000, manufacturers have the option to self-certify, as long as they lodge notifications with the various regional regulators.

So the conformance burden becomes a matter of enforcement, rather than certification, and is reliant on regional regulators to demand the withdrawal of dodgy kit, as long as someone notices.

According to the EC's Assessment and Market Surveillance Committee, who are responsible for the R&TTE, there's no problem with high-tech kit, the latest technology isn't price-sensitive so decent components are used. The problems come with cheap toy cars and walkie-talkies, or remotely-controlled light switches - things that have exploded in popularity over the last few years.

Testing every device would be very expensive, so self-certification has made that growth possible. But the R&TTE expected market forces to quickly identify substandard kit leading to complaints and swift withdrawal - in reality, a remote-control car might be spitting out interference across the band while still operating to the satisfaction of the buyer.

It's a problem that needs addressing, especially if the EU's plans for greater Common Use of Spectrum are adopted, as licence holders could find themselves sharing spectrum with devices self-certified by an unknown factory somewhere in the far east.

Improving traceability will certainly form part of the new proposals, perhaps with an identity number stamped on every product, so regulators can at least find someone to blame - something which isn't always easy today.

As Thomas Ewers, chairman of the CEPT Electronic Communications Committee, puts it: “If we expect in the future, incumbent spectrum users to agree to additional sharing based on cognitive or software defined, or other mitigation techniques... it is important to have the assurance that all the stakeholders have the confidence in the system and the system is working.”

The Assessment and Market Surveillance Committee is preparing a report on the progress of the R&TTE at the moment, with a view to publication in the autumn - that should lay out the options and could lead to concrete proposals next year. Interference in the cheaper bands isn't much of a problem yet, but it will be. So we could have a rare example of legislation preceding the problems it's designed to solve. ®

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