The APEC mutual recognition arrangement is very important to our business...time to market is a critical issue for us. Therefore, a streamlined testing and certification process for exporting our mobile devices quickly is tantamount.

The global telecommunications industry has experienced a dramatic transformation over the last decade. This rapid growth has been facilitated by cross-border regulatory cooperation at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In 1999, only 15 per cent of the world’s population had access to a regular land-line telephone. Fifteen years later, with the advent of the mobile phone, mobile subscriptions approached 7 billion or 96 per cent of the earth’s population in 2014, according to estimates by the International Telecommunications Union. Moreover, more than half of these mobile phone subscribers are located in Asia.

The APEC Telecommunications Mutual Recognition Arrangement (TEL MRA)—the world’s first multilateral effort initiated in 1998 to mutually recognize testing and certification of new telecom technologies across borders—has helped fuel this expansion by shepherding innovations to market faster.  Over the last seventeen years, the Asia-Pacific telecom industry has reaped the benefits resulting from this APEC arrangement.

Streamlining testing of new technologies

“Before the implementation of the APEC telecom arrangement, developers of the latest mobile phone or tablet had to obtain testing and certification in all the different economies they wanted to export to,” explained Roger Sheng, Chair of the Task Force under the APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group, charged with helping APEC member economies implement the mutual recognition arrangement. 

“This required actually shipping their state-of the-art technology to other economies for them to perform local testing and certification. Moreover, it created confidentiality issues for new innovations and the possibility of losing intellectual property and know-how,” added Sheng.

If an issue was detected, the device would have to be shipped back to the manufacturer for correction. Once repaired, the technology would have to re-start the entire testing and certification process again. The shipping of devices back and forth and managing customs procedures can take significant amounts of time which delays new products from getting to market. In a highly competitive telecom industry with rapid product cycles, quickly delivering the latest mobile version into the hands of consumers is critical.

“Under the APEC arrangement, a manufacturer of a telecommunications device can take their product to a Korean or Singaporean test lab that has been recognized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States for the required FCC testing before export to the United States,” explained Ramona Saar, Program Manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the United States Designating Authority.

“If certification of the device is also required, which is the case for mobile phones, the manufacturer can use an FCC recognized telecommunications certification body in one of the economies that has implemented the APEC arrangement for certification with the United States, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, or Canada. Conformity assessment results generated by FCC recognized labs and certification bodies located in APEC mutual recognition arrangement partner economies are accepted by the FCC,” added Saar.

Manufacturers typically prefer to use testing labs and certification bodies in the same economy the device is manufactured. Language barriers can often be eliminated, and time to market is reduced since there is no need to ship the device to the United States for testing or certification prior to marketing. 

Network of testing and certification providers

The APEC telecom arrangement has created a network of recognized testing labs and certification bodies throughout the Asia-Pacific region. For example, in the United States there are over 100 such providers that are recognized to offer testing and certification of telecom products for export to participating APEC economies. In Chinese Taipei, there are 17 such telecom testing providers.

Since 1998, eight APEC economies with telecom industry presence have implemented the APEC telecommunications arrangement, including Australia; Canada; Hong Kong, China; Korea; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; the United States and Viet Nam.

Rapid product cycles, quick approvals

Streamlining the export process for newly developed mobile technologies has provided important benefits to the telecom industry. Moreover, these new inventions reach consumers quickly and at lower prices. The APEC arrangement has also made it easier and less costly for start-ups and small and medium enterprises to export their cutting-edge technologies to global markets, allowing many telecom start-ups to flourish in the Asia-Pacific over the last decade.

 “The APEC mutual recognition arrangement is very important to our business. In the telecom industry, we generally release one or two features every three months,” explained Herman Chen, Vice President at HTC, a leading mobile company headquartered in Chinese Taipei.

“HTC uses the most advanced chipset to make our mobile devices. This new feature makes us competitive against other brands. But time to market is a critical issue for us. Therefore, a streamlined testing and certification process for exporting our mobile devices quickly is tantamount.”

Key to APEC’s success in implementing the multilateral telecom arrangement has been training and guidelines for participating member economies provided by the targeted APEC Task Force.

“A successful APEC telecom arrangement needs continuous cooperation and capacity building for all participants. You can’t just sign a mutual recognition arrangement and expect a perfect outcome,” said Sheng, who spearheads the Task Force.

Next step, one test for all

The APEC Task Force also addresses new challenges and continually works with member economies to ensure the process operates as smoothly and efficiently as possible. In particular, an additional Mutual Recognition Arrangement for Equivalence of Technical Requirements (MRA ETR) was created in 2010. One of the major concepts of the initial APEC telecom arrangement, developed in 1998, was to not change the regulations and requirements of the participating APEC economies. As a result, although regulations of economies might be very similar, redundant tests are still required.

For example, under the initial APEC arrangement if there are two economies participating and a company wants to sell a product to both economies, they would go to one test laboratory and certification body, but would need to essentially test the product twice—one time for each economy’s requirements.

The new Mutual Recognition Arrangement for Equivalence of Technical Requirement (MRA-ETR) is intended to reduce the number of tests required in cases where economies have similar standards and requirements. This new arrangement allows a mechanism for participating economies to accept justifications of equivalence for specific standards.

Changing already established standards and regulations in each APEC economy is challenging and requires resources. However, as novel technologies are developed, such as wearable watches, new standards can be created to establish equivalence across APEC economies. The goal is that in the near future, a telecom product will be tested and certified only once and accepted by all regulatory authorities across APEC economies.

The APEC Telecommunications and Information Ministerial Meeting is being held 30-31 March 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to advance the APEC Telecom Mutual Recognition Arrangement and other issues.