Lars Poulsen's Professional Home Page

Compliance Engineering

What is Compliance Engineering?

Electronic products are subject to government regulations concerning electrical safety, electromagnetic noise radiation and electromagnetic noise immunity. For telecommunications equipment, additional rules govern attachment to the public networks to ensure that the equipment will work with the network and that it will not cause harm to the network or to people working on the network. Compliance engineering is a term used to describe the engineering activities to ensure that products conform to these rules.

Who makes the rules?

In each jurisdiction, the rules are set in a dance between government authorities and industry associations representing manufacturers, their customers, and insurance companies.

United States

In the Unites States, the players are:

European Union

In Europe, all of this rulemaking is centered on Directorate General III of the Commission of the European Union, which can be considered the Federal Department of Industry and Commerce for the European Union. DG-3 rules are published in the Official Journal of the EU, which is published daily in 11 languages. (But note that the online edition is only available for 20 days; after that, you have to pay for archive copies.)

The Commission publishes directives which are linked to "harmonized standards" issued by the Commission on the basis of documents written by recognized Standards Bodies such as ETSI - European Telecom Standards Institute.


In order for a manufacturer of any kind to be able to sell products, they have to comply with the standards. To make them compliant, you must have the documents describing the standards. These documents tend to be priced fairly high, allowing much of the work to define the standards to be paid for out of document sales.

Paper Documents

In principle, you can buy the documents from the organization that prepared them. In practice, it is usually simpler to get them from companies that specialize in providing standards from around the world. One of the best source in the USA is GLOBAL ENGINEERING DOCUMENTS.

Web Resources

Many documents are available on-line, often for free.

Specific useful documents

EMC (Electromagnetic Compatibility)

In the USA, EMC is regulated by the FCC regulations, 47 CFR 15 sections 15 - 113

In Europe, the primary document is the EMC Directive and its harmonized standards foremost among which is EN-55022B.

RF issues are an area of special interest, and besides ETSI, good resources are

Electrical Safety

The primary electrical safety standard for computer equipment is IEC-950, implemented in the USA as UL-1950 and in Europe as EN-60950.


ETSI - European Telecom Standards Institute
In Europe, most rules are developed by ETSI, whose offices are in Sophia Antipolis in Southern France. Many of ETSI's publications are available for free via this link.
BellCoRe - Bell Communications Research (an SAIC company)
When the old AT&T was broken up, the standards-setting activity was placed in BellCoRe, which was jointly owned by the Regional Bell Operating Companies, who later sold it to SAIC. Although BellCore is a private company with no special legal status, the telephone companies generally will not buy equipment unless it conforms to these standards.
Many functional standards for telecommunications are codified by ANSI (American National Standards Institute). The best source for ANSI documents is usually Global (see above). Examples of ANSI documents:

Test and Measurements

Engineering to technical standards requires test equipment designed to measure what the standards require. For ISDN equipment, it used to be that you had to get the $40,000 K1403 tester from Siemens ... nothing has changed, except that the product line has been taken over by Tektronix (see it here in Tektronix' catalog).

Internationalization Issues

Besides compliance, we often look for other issues in "how to make our product work in country XXX". Such issues may include power standards and telephone plugs. This site has many good hints:
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