Précis - The European Commission has adopted a proposal to update the existing Radio Equipment Directive, which deals with essential requirements for radio equipment. European Commission proposes update to the radio equipment directive

What?  The existing Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive ("Directive") has been in place since 1999.  It includes requirements for the protection of health and safety, of electromagnetic compatibility and for the avoidance of harmful interference.  The latter of these has of particular importance to the European Commission in its proposal.  The Commission notes that there has been enormous growth in the number of mobile devices and wireless applications, and there is still an enormous potential for future growth, but in order to enable this sector to expand, interference between the various devices on the market must be avoided and radio spectrum must be used efficiently. 

The Commission has identified a number of problems with the Directive, including a low level of compliance with its requirements, a number of problems of ambiguity within the wording of the Directive which has led to inconsistent application of the Directive, and a lack of clarity as to how to apply the Directive to some particular categories of equipment, such as equipment modifiable by software.  These problems affect users of radio equipment who are exposed to non-compliant equipment; manufacturers who are affected by distortion of competition caused by non-compliant products; and regulatory bodies who have difficulties in enforcing the Directive.  It therefore proposes to replace this with a new directive, which will be implemented in member states by way of national legislation.  The main objectives of the draft proposal are:

  • to improve the level of compliance with the requirements of the Directive, ensuring that citizens have access to radio products which operate without interference.  For example, market surveillance and customs officers could better check the safety of products using more effective tools.  According to the European Commission, only between 28% and 56% of relevant businesses currently comply with the Directive;  
  • to clarify the directive, in particular spelling out the obligations for every market player, including manufacturers and importers; and
  • to simplify the Directive through the elimination of unnecessary administrative burdens for businesses.

There are also a number of specific requirements in the proposal, such as:

  • ensuring that software can only be used with radio equipment after the compliance of that particular combination of software and the radio equipment has been demonstrated; and  
  • ensuring that radio equipment can interoperate with accessories such as chargers, and work via networks with other radio equipment.

The next step is for the proposal to be adopted by the European Parliament and Council.

So What?  Businesses that are currently regulated by the Directive will be interested to see if the European Parliament adopts the Commission's proposal.  In particular, businesses which are subject to regulation but are not complying with their obligations (of which, if the Commission's statistics are to be believed, there are many), should note the new proposals for strengthening compliance with the Directive.  However, given that the European Parliament takes, on average, fifteen months to adopt proposals, which then need to be transposed into national law, these proposed changes are unlikely to require any action from businesses in the short term.

Perhaps more importantly, businesses dealing with radio and terminal equipment should take note of the level of non-compliance observed by the European Commission under the current Directive.  In many countries, non-compliance with national laws implementing the Directive can result in fines and even imprisonment.