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EU Market Surveillance Finds High EMC Noncompliance from Present Consumer Drones

At left is a recent report from the European Union entitled "REPORT ON THE 7TH JOINT CROSS-BORDER R&TTE MARKET SURVEILLANCE CAMPAIGN (2015): REMOTELY PILOTED AIRCRAFT SYSTEM". This EU report deals with two issues that have been of recurring interest here:

- Drones and their use of spectrum

- Enforcement of FCC equipment authorization rules

Every year the EU pick a type of radio equipment for market surveillance to see if actual units are complying with the EU counterparts to FCC equipment authorization rules give in Part 2, Subpart J of FCC's Rules. This year 16 countries (Austria, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) cooperatively examined 79 drone models sold in EU territory. 92% of the units tested "were manufactured in countries of the Far East ". The mean price of systems was "between 100 and 200 euro". These units almost all used the 2.4 and 5.8 GHz unlicensed bands, best known for Wi-Fi.

The report observed what has been previously discussed here about the interference potential of drones that are not properly regulated:

Signals transmitted from the air to the ground have a significantly bigger coverage area than from the ground. Therefore, interferences generated from RPAS could have a major impact on radio communication. This means that there is a higher risk of harmful interference if RPAS systems do not meet the essential requirements.

Here is what the EU found about compliance:

The market surveillance authorities found that ninety two percent (92%) of the devices did not fulfil all of the requirements. Half (51%) of assessed RPAS were found to be non-compliant in relation to the effective use of spectrum. Four out of five (82%) had administrative non-compliances within the meaning of the R&TTE Directive.

The campaign showed that the main reasons for non-compliances with the effective use of spectrum were spurious emissions (70%) and radiated power/power density (23%). Furthermore, the figures show that the remote controls on the ground tend to have a higher non-compliance rate than the aircraft systems.

The market surveillance authorities consider the rate of non-compliances too high. The growing market of remotely piloted aircraft systems combined with a low compliance rate could lead to an increase of interferences to the radio spectrum. Market surveillance authorities should therefore continue to check at national level such products and take all appropriate measures to ban non-compliant products from the market. Regular reporting in ADCO R&TTE is recommended.

It is reasonable to assume that most of the models sold in the EU are also sold in the US and that if they don't comply with EU regulations they probably don't comply with FCC ones either. The FCC counterpart of "market surveillance" was reviewed in Docket 13-44 and the rules were tightened in its Report & Order. But it appears that the EU approach is more transparent with eh issuance of reports like that shown above. It also appears that there is central planning of equipment categories to surveil whereas in the US Telecommunications Certification Bodies (TCBs) due surveillance on behalf of FCC and have great discretion in their actions. There is also a conflict here in that TCBs have a supplier relationship to manufacturers/importers who buy their services.

So several questions come from reviewing this EU report:

  • Are drones now sold in the US as noncompliant as the ones sold in Europe?
  • If so, why haven't the TCBs or the FCC noticed it?
  • Does the allegedly overactive Enforcement Bureau have any interest in this matter?
  • Will the Wi-Fi community get distracted enough from it present focus on LTE-U issues and recognize this serious threat to its spectrum?
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