Between 2018 and 2020, the UK Government made around 80,000 amendments to retained EU law, impacting some of the country’s most regulated industries. One area affected was the sale and operation of radio equipment, following the move from the EU’s Radio Equipment Directive (RED) to the UK’s Radio Equipment Regulation (RER). This means that, from 1 January 2023, all new products must include UKCA safety markings. Here Ian McNeilage, engineering manager at wireless telemetry specialist Omniflex, explores the latest developments and how businesses can achieve compliance.
In highly regulated industries like nuclear, laying cables is not always feasible. Installing the likes of fibre optic cables, particularly on larger sites, is extremely expensive. Any need to carry out excavation or drilling work may also take time to be approved. Here, radio-based communication can help facility managers retrieve critical data from the field wirelessly, safely and efficiently. Wireless communication is also beneficial for utility providers that connect to electrical, water and gas meters and gather data for billing and control purposes.
Two years after the UK’s departure from the EU, new legislation requires both manufacturers and facility managers to ensure their radio equipment is up-to-standard.
As an EU member state, the UK was bound by the Radio Equipment Directive 2014/53/EU (RED), which requires original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to assess their product for essential requirements — including safety, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and radio performance.
In 2017, the UK Government introduced the Radio Equipment Regulations (RER) to replace the RED. The new regulations apply to all radio equipment and, like the RED, require a high level of safety, adequate EMC capability and efficient operation in the radio spectrum. Any product that conforms to EU rules can be placed on the UK market until December 31, 2022, but new products must include UKCA marking and labelling, and an EU declaration of conformity. There is now also more emphasis on EMC and the frequencies that equipment transmits.
The UK’s radio spectrum is extremely cluttered, and radio frequency (RF) efficiency is key for RER compliance. One option is for businesses to operate on a licensed band where they pay a fee for the exclusive right to transmit on assigned frequencies. However, the application process is onerous because the relevant band must be available. So, radio equipment OEMs often opt for unlicensed bands instead to ensure broader compliance across the spectrum. Unlicensed bands are nonexclusive and can be used by anyone. There are two main bands in the UK — 2.4 GHz, which is the same frequency as WiFi and Bluetooth, and 868 MHz.
Even though these bands are unlicensed, because they are used by other people, they are still regulated to prevent interference. Therefore, any equipment is subject to a fair use policy that limits their power to give other people on the band equality opportunities. Amplifying a signal to block others out is strictly prohibited and, to remain compliant, devices must not impact surrounding sensitive equipment.
Once manufacturers have assessed their products and RER compliance is confirmed, facility managers and operators can deploy this technology. When integrating a remote terminal unit (RTU) or any other radio-based communications system, businesses that are new to the RER can work with an experienced remote monitoring specialist to get the insights they need. As well as supplying the necessary technology, a good partner will adapt to the customer, their site and remote monitoring needs.
Omniflex offers the Teleterm M3R, a small programmable RTU that’s configurable and allows users to choose between analogue and digital inputs and outputs depending on the application. The company has also developed a series of protocols to help with different applications, including the Modbus Protocol and custom plug-in protocols that businesses can employ when acquiring data from third-party devices.
Following the UK’s departure from the EU, there is now greater pressure to comply with the new RER. While this may seem daunting, working with an experienced specialist and ensuring RF efficiency can help.
To find out more about Omniflex’s radio terminal units for wireless telemetry and communication, visit the company’s website.