Guest Post: Joni Schmeichel, Daktronics
Recently, we have seen an increase in interest around Federal Communications Commission (FCC) compliance, and for good reason. This is a very important topic and one that should be taken seriously. It is vital for buyers of LED displays to understand this and do their research.
At my company, Daktronics, LED displays are not only tested within our own labs; they are certified by an accredited third party lab in the USA to ensure compliance with FCC regulations.
It is important to note that only a certified laboratory can validate that a display complies with the FCC guidelines.
What is the FCC?
The FCC is an independent US Government agency that regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states and US territories. All electronic devices used in the USA must be tested to comply with FCC guidelines. This testing certifies that the electromagnetic interference (EMI) from a device is under the limits approved by the FCC.
Why FCC Compliance Matters
EMI occurs when electromagnetic energy is emitted from an electronic device and impedes the operation of another electrical circuit. All electronics emit some amount of EMI, including LED displays. If the interference is above acceptable standards, it can adversely affect the performance of any wireless device, including cell phones, microphones, key fobs and even emergency communication in vehicles such as those found in firetrucks, police cars and ambulances.
Issues resulting from interference are not always immediately recognized and are often overlooked until it becomes a serious problem.
The worst-case scenario we see too often is digital display owners being required to turn off their displays or remove them completely. The lost revenue from downtime and unexpected service can be detrimental to the future of a business.
How are the Rules Being Broken?
LED manufacturers approach the subject of EMI in different ways. Some have a limited number of installations so they have little experience tailoring their products to coexist with mobile networks and other wireless transmissions that are becoming more widely used each day. They don’t understand the EMI risks associated with their product.
Other manufacturers know about potential interference problems existing in their design but also know the FCC doesn’t proactively verify compliance. Because EMI compliance isn’t strictly enforced until there is a specific interference issue, these manufacturers cut costs by substituting less-expensive components or they eliminate components that support EMI management altogether from their design, resulting in higher EMI. While this may allow them to provide a lower purchase price, the absence of proper EMI management can create costly issues for display owners when the products are installed.
These manufacturers are selling a product and crossing their fingers, hoping that a problem does not arise.
This is not a hypothetical situation. We are aware of equipment being sold in the USA that has not been properly tested and does not meet the FCC guidelines. Most of this equipment is being imported to the United States from other countries. In some cases, manufacturers are providing false certificates of compliance or testing their products in ways that do not accurately represent real world operation. Buyers of such displays are in danger of losing their investment and possibly incurring legal fees resulting from damages.
What You Can Do?
Although there are many factors to consider, you can make proactive choices to avoid these issues:
- During the display purchase process, investigate digital display vendors for compliance with FCC requirements
- Verify that vendors are having their equipment tested in an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) accredited lab in the USA.
- Ask how many years a company has been selling and installing similar products in the USA, and choose a display manufacturer with a long history of doing business in the USA.
Choose a company that is committed to extensive product testing, continuously refines product design for future technology advancements, collaborates with mobile network providers and provides continuous, reliable support for products in the field.
What We Did
There is no silver bullet for managing EMI. Instead, superior design methodologies, meticulous component selection and strong relationships with other technology companies lead to successful EMI management. An investment in proper EMI management today is an investment in the future— one that benefits our customers and the LED display industry.
We intentionally provide design for EMI compliance training for our engineers. We leverage this knowledge to select components and utilize design methodologies to ensure our electronics circuits and component interconnects generate the least amount of EMI. Designs are then tested for EMI performance in our in-house EMI test chamber.
Once a product has passed this level of in-house EMI testing, we send it to a USA-based, ISO accredited third-party lab for further testing and official certification of EMI compliance.
This is Not an Issue That Will Go Soon Away
There are growing concerns about the increasing amount of EMI in our environment. Organizations such as CITA (Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association), NPSTC (National Public Safety Telecommunications Council) and TAC (FCC’s Technological Advisory Council) have expressed concerns over the raising spectrum noise floor. Many believe that this increase in EMI could lead to new FCC rules or guidance and amplified enforcement.
If this occurs, and it seems likely it will, sooner rather than later, buyers of displays manufactured by those not following the rules are even more at risk.