Posted By
Christy Burrow

A device that connects wirelessly to the internet, such as a fitness tracker, smart coffee pot, or home security system, must comply with country-specific equipment authorization and labeling rules.  In the US, IoT devices must follow the authorization and labeling requirements of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Absent proper labeling on your product or device, your company could be at risk of incurring substantial FCC fines and you may suddenly discover that your product or device cannot legally be sold, marketed, or displayed for sale.  You may also have trouble monetizing your company or bringing in new investors if you have not been following federal rules.

Why Are Labels Important?

If your product sends out communications wirelessly it is generating radiofrequency energy (RF).  Products and devices that generate RF have the potential to interfere with other electronic devices and therefore are regulated by the FCC.  Displaying the proper label on your product indicates that your product or device meets FCC-required testing standards and shows no significant interference risk to other electronic devices.

How Do I Know What Labeling My IoT Product Needs?

IoT devices commonly use modular transmitters already tested and certified through FCC authorized laboratories.   This avoids the need for each IoT device manufacturer to separately test the same transmitter.  Instructions for the modular transmitter explain how the transmitter can be incorporated into a host device and what labeling and disclosures, in addition to those required by the FCC’s general rules, need to accompany the assembled device.  You should receive these instructions from your modular transmitter manufacturer.

If you do not meet the labeling and other requirements for incorporating the modular transmitter into your device, you cannot take advantage of the prior testing of the transmitter and your device cannot be imported legally into the US or marketed or distributed here until it has been separately tested and certified.

When using a pre-approved modular transmitter you should watch out for the following:

  • There are two kinds of modular transmitter certification:  general and limited.  General modular transmitters are self-contained transmitters tested to demonstrate compliance independent of any particular host device.  They may be used in any host, subject to compliance with conditions specified in the approval and general FCC rules.  Limited modular transmitters may be used only for the specific host devices authorized in the instructions and only if the devices comply with specific grant conditions and general FCC rules.  If the modular transmitter you propose to use is a limited modular transmitter, your device must be an approved host.
  • A modular transmitter must have a current FCC equipment authorization and a permanent label on it with a valid FCC identification number, whose genuineness you should confirm.
  • Using a modular transmitter does not permit you to avoid testing and labeling requirements that other RF-producing functions of your device may trigger. For example, if your device would constitute a “digital device” without the modular transmitter, then you have an entirely separate responsibility to test and label the product to conform to the FCC requirements for a digital device.

What Do I Need to Do to Comply?

When designing your IoT product and the manuals and other information to be supplied with it, your designs must include FCC-required labels and disclosures for the product and product manual

For devices with integrated display screens and devices that can only be operated with a second device that has an integrated display screen, the FCC allows electronic labeling.  Product users must be able to access all of the required labeling in no more than three steps. In addition, a device that uses an electronic label rather than a permanent physical label must include a temporary physical label on the device itself or on its packaging.  If a very small device cannot use electronic labeling and a physical label is impractical, identifying information for the device may be placed in a user manual.  For other products that are subject to FCC labeling requirements, you need a label on the device itself.  The marking must be indelible and large enough to read without magnification.  A printed label is acceptable if the label is permanently affixed.  (No peel-off labels!)

Depending on the device, the label generally includes an FCC logo; the trade name for the device; a unique identifier chosen by the manufacturer (usually the company’s model number); and one of the following statements:  “Contains Transmitter Module FCC ID: XXXXXX” or “Contains FCC ID: XXXXXX” (insert FCC ID number for the module you are using).   Devices approved under the FCC’s Supplier’s Declaration of Conformity (“SDoC”) procedures may display an FCC logo, but are not required to do so.  You may also need the following text, unless the device is too small to include the text or it is otherwise impractical to include the language on the device:

This device complies with Part 15 of the FCC Rules. Operation is subject to the following two conditions: (1) this device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) this device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.

If it is not practical to place this notice on the device itself, it may be included on a physical insert placed inside the product packaging.  In limited circumstances, the FCC may allow label information to be displayed in different ways.

Keep in mind that, in addition to labeling requirements, FCC rules and modular transmitter instructions will require that the manual provided with your device include specific disclosures and warnings about modifications, RF radiation exposure, operation in conjunction with other antennas or transmitters, and limitations or warnings about any special accessories.  You must include this information to comply with FCC rules.

Requirements in Other Countries

If you plan to sell your product internationally, you will want to confirm that your labeling complies with the requirements of other locations where your products will be sold.  These requirements often are similar to the requirements in the US but there may be important differences, depending on the attributes of your product.