Navigating the maze of certification in North America

Tags: IoT
A picture of Andrew Worth
Written by
Andrew Worth

Whether you’re in the prototype phase or have already developed a wireless IoT or M2M device to bring to market, the task of navigating the maze of certification in North America may seem daunting at first. The proper certification is as important as any other step in designing a wireless device and preparing to launch it. While certificates can seem like an afterthought or the last step of product development it is important to remember that missing certificates can cause setbacks in getting products to market according to your timeline.

So, what are certificates and why do they matter? Basically, certificates are testing requirements that inspect a wireless device on a range of topics. These concern total radiated power (TRP), total isotropic sensitivity (TIS), radiated spurious emissions (RSE), idle mode emissions, SIM testing, specific absorption rate (SAR), and individual network protocols. Additionally, IoT devices must meet cellular device standards which are more stringent than other electronic devices, because cellular devices are typically closer to people in our daily lives for long periods of time.

In North America, there are essentially three layers of certificate requirements that need to be met. The first is the governmental level, mainly the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in the United States and IC (Industry Canada) in Canada. These are designed to regulate the level of radiating energy and radio-frequency spectrum that a device uses. The FCC or IC certificates are required in the United States or Canada; thus, they are typically the first step in the process of obtaining the necessary certificates. However, a common misconception is that once these certificates are obtained the certification process is complete, but there are often more certificates that are required depending on the location and carrier that is used.

The next layer of certificates are industry standards mainly the PTCRB which focuses on the industry wide requirements for wireless devices operating on mobile networks. The PTCRB is made up of many network carriers, and without obtaining a certificate from the PTCRB these carriers won’t allow your device on their network. Membership is comprised of many North American networks, such as AT&T, Rogers, Telus, T-Mobile, Bell Mobility, and Sprint with the notable exception being Verizon. After the FCC and IC certification, the PTCRB remains the most important certification process to be able to use most networks in North America. 

The final layer of certification is comprised of certificates and requirements imposed by the carriers themselves. Typically, the larger carriers are the ones who have special certification criteria, however requirements may differ depending on the carrier that is used. Carriers are the ones who enforce PTCRB standards or their own specific testing and requirements. As such, some carriers rely on the government and industry certificates, whereas others don’t necessarily require these certificates and instead have created their own testing process through which they have formed their own requirements.

Because there are many different carriers and they each have their own certificates requirements, this final layer is the one that can be the most complicated, especially if you assumed that the industry and government certificates covered all your bases. For instance, T-Mobile uses PTCRB certification, but does not impose the TIS or TRP testing requirements. Verizon also does not require TIS or TRP, however they require their own testing to determine how the device operates on their network. On the other hand, Sprint does its own tests for TIS and TRP compliance and have developed in-house testing to determine how the device operates on their network. Rogers enforces PTCRB as well as IC standards. And finally, AT&T requires both PTCRB certification, including TIS and TRP, as well as their own in-house certification. 

So, as you can see, there are many different requirements and layers of certification that are required to actually put a wireless device into the market. These carrier requirements can also change at any time, so contacting the carrier and verifying their unique requirements is always recommended. Due to these intricate certification requirements, planning ahead and knowing which certifications will be necessary for your product can save you a headache, time, and money in the long run. 

If you have any questions about connecting your IoT/M2M device or certificates don’t hesitate to contact sales[at] for more information.