The continued rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
In fact, Forbes predict that the number of cellular IoT connections will reach 3.5 billion in 2023. However, the process of launching smart devices into the market requires managing multiple challenges. From balancing market risks with increased innovation to security and safety concerns, there’s a lot to consider.
Consumers should be able to trust that connected devices will work as promised when they are building a smart home. Testing and compliance can help reach this goal of truly smart homes while also building brand reputation and maintaining consumer trust.
Should companies fail to consider how smart home products can fail in real-world settings or when tested to the required global regulatory standards, their market launch can be slowed and consumer confidence lost. Pre-launch testing gives you a chance to resolve design flaws, such as overheating caused by battery design, and minimises the risks of costly delays and product recalls. So, where should you start and what are the main elements to consider before going to market?
Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) design
Smart home devices operate in a complex electromagnetic interference (EMI) environment. The presence of sensors from other connected devices in a smart home may affect device performance and increase consumers’ safety risks. For example, a malfunctioning smart smoke detector due to EMI may leave the residents at risk if a fire occurs.
Unsurprisingly, many countries require electronics to be certified to relevant electromagnetic compatability (EMC) standards and requirements before market entry. If a product fails EMC testing the first time around, it may require design modification and retesting to demonstrate compliance.
As such, smart home and IoT device manufacturers should plan for EMC testing to avoid delays and additional costs to the launch schedule. UL Solutions performs EMC testing according to the latest EMC directives and regulatory requirements to determine whether smart home devices can withstand electronic interference.
Specific absorption rate (SAR) exposure standards
Like other devices with radio antennas, such as microwaves and mobile phones, smart home devices emit radio frequencies (RF), which the environment and human bodies may absorb. Industry studies have shown that long-term exposure to high RF radiation levels may lead to health hazards such as tissue damage.
Smart home devices should be designed and manufactured not to exceed safe RF exposure regulations, such as those in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements in the United States (U.S.), even if they add a transmitter to an existing product. Specific absorption rate (SAR) measures the rate of absorption of the amount of RF energy absorbed by biological tissue when using a wireless device over a period of time.
Many countries require all wireless devices to be evaluated for RF exposure through SAR testing. Of course, the SAR limit may vary for each country, with the FCC limit for SAR in the U.S. sitting at 1.6 Watts/Kilogram (W/kg), lower than the European limit of 2.0 W/kg.
With faster speed and broader availability, 5G is expected to boost smart home adoption worldwide. However, multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) antennas that allow users to send and receive data simultaneously add to 5G smart home devices’ complexity. Additionally, 5G technology introduces a new millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum that operates between 24-90 gigahertz (GHz), a higher frequency than sub 6GHz for existing 4G deployments.
Manufacturers face various challenges in testing 5G smart home devices for mmWave compliance. For example, traditional test equipment for mmWave is limited to an upper frequency of 50 GHz and requires the addition of external harmonic mixers to measure wider bandwidths.
Compliance tests for 5G devices require many field combinations and configurations, and manufacturers need to assess exposure from multiple simultaneous transmitters across a wide channel bandwidth, including combined exposure of SAR and power density.
A smarter future
What makes a smart home device truly smart is its ability to bridge the physical and digital world with sensors and software to automate everyday tasks. For example, smart lighting connected to a smart home mobile application can be controlled using voice control. Connectivity to other devices and the internet creates additional challenges for smart home product designers. Smart home devices must comply with electromagnetic capability (EMC) and wireless testing safety standards for electronic products, as well as industry protocols such as Bluetooth and Matter, and deliver secure connectivity for a positive user experience .
Smart home applications continue to evolve as IoT technology matures, and so does the testing and compliance requirements needed to increase a smart product’s safety and effectiveness. Whether you’re looking to launch new products in your local market or expand across geographies, it’s important to work with a trusted partner who can help streamline the launch process, providing support when and where you need it. Offering a blend of deep industry technical expertise and global regulatory knowledge, partners such as UL Solutions can identify, test and certify your products against the necessary requirements and help meet your budget, timing and compliance needs.
About the Author
Colin Forrester is Business Development Manager – Consumer, Medical & Information Technology at UL Solutions. A global leader in applied safety science, UL Solutions transforms safety, security, and sustainability challenges into opportunities for customers in more than 100 countries. UL Solutions delivers testing, inspection and certification services, together with software products and advisory offerings, that support our customers’ product innovation and business growth.
Featured image: ©Gorodenkoff