What is an RF Device?

The FCC regulates radio frequency (RF) devices contained in electronic-electrical products that are capable of emitting radio frequency energy by radiation, conduction, or other means. These products have the potential to cause interference to radio services operating in the radio frequency range of 9 kHz to 3000 GHz.

Almost all electronic-electrical products (devices) are capable of emitting radio frequency energy. Most, but not all, of these products must be tested to demonstrate compliance to the FCC rules for each type of electrical function that is contained in the product. As a general rule, products that, by design, contain circuitry that operates in the radio frequency spectrum needs to demonstrate compliance through the applicable FCC equipment authorization procedure (i.e., Verification, Declaration of Conformity (DoC) or Certification) depending on the type of device as specified in the FCC rules. A product may contain one device or multiple devices with the possibility that one, two or even all three of the equipment authorization procedures apply. A RF device must be approved using the appropriate equipment authorization procedure before it can be marketed, imported or used in the United States.

The following is provided to help identify if a product is regulated by the FCC and if it requires approval. The more difficult part, not covered in this document, is how to categorize the individual RF device or devices and determine the specific FCC rule part(s) that apply and the specific equipment authorization procedure or procedures that need to be used for an equipment authorization. This will require technical understanding of the product as well as knowledge of the FCC rules. Some basic guidance on how to obtain an equipment authorization is provided on the Equipment Authorization Page. The following is provided to help identify if a product is regulated by the FCC and if it requires equipment authorization.

Radio Frequency Devices are Grouped Under the Following Categories:


An incidental radiator (defined in Section 15.3 (n)) is an electrical device that is not designed to intentionally use, intentionally generate or intentionally emit radio frequency energy over 9 kHz.  However, it may produce byproducts of radio emissions above 9 kHz and cause radio interference.  A product that is classified as an incidental radiator device is not required to obtain an equipment authorization.  However, it is regulated under the general operating conditions of Section 15.5 and if there is harmful interference the user must stop operation and remedy the interference.  Manufacturers and importers should use good engineering judgment before they market and sell these products, to minimize possible interference (Section 15.13).

Examples of products that are classified as incidental radiators include: AC and DC motors, mechanical light switches, basic electrical power tools (that do not contain digital logic).


An unintentional radiator (defined in 15.3 (z)) is a device by design that uses digital logic, electrical signals operating at radio frequencies for use within the product, or sends radio frequency signals by conduction to associated equipment via connecting wiring, but is not intended to emit RF energy wirelessly by radiation or induction.

Today the majority of electronic-electrical products uses digital logic, operating between 9 kHz to 3000 GHz and are regulated under Part 15 Subpart B.

Examples include: coffee pots, wrist watches, cash registers, personal computers, telephones, garage door receivers, wireless temperature probe receiver, RF universal remote control and thousands of other types of common electronic-electrical equipment that rely on digital technology.  This also includes many traditional products that were once classified as incidental radiators – like motors and basic electrical power tools that now use digital logic.

Products that only contain digital logic may also be specifically exempted from an equipment authorization under Section 15.103.

INTENTIONAL RADIATORS (Part 15, Subpart C Through H)

An intentional radiator (defined in Section 15.3 (o)) is a device that intentionally generates and emits radio frequency energy by radiation or induction that may be operated without an individual license.

Examples include: wireless garage door openers, wireless temperature probe, RF universal remote control, cordless telephones, alarm systems, vehicular radar systems, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth devices.


When (RF) energy is used for providing energy other than telecommunications such as production of physical, biological, chemical effects, heating, ionization of gases, mechanical vibrations, acceleration of charged particles, these devices fall under the rules for Part 18.  A medical device does not come under this classification unless it is designed to generate and use locally RF energy for medical purposes.

Examples include: fluorescent lighting, halogen ballasts, arc welders, microwave ovens, and medical diathermy machines.

Products that use licensed radio spectrum, from fixed microwave links to cellular telephones to mobile broadband services, are considered RF Devices and are subject to equipment authorization.  
Examples of licensed radio equipment includes: low power TV transmitter, cell phones/smart phones, base stations, licensed point to point microwave private land mobile transmitters, aviation and marine transmitters. 
For more information on licensed radio services:

Radio spectrum allocation, regulatory responsibility for the radio spectrum is divided between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  Currently only frequency bands between 9 kHz and 275 GHz have been allocated (i.e., designated for use by one or more terrestrial or space radiocommunication services or the radio astronomy service under specified conditions).  OET maintains the FCC's Table of Frequency Allocations, which is a compilation of allocations.  The FCC's Table of Frequency Allocations consists of the International Table of Frequency Allocations and the United States Table of Frequency Allocations.  The FCC’s Table of Frequency Allocations is codified at Section 2.106 of the Commission's Rules.  For a more detailed description go to the Table of Frequency Allocations Chart.