Wireless Standards and Certification: A Brief Explainer

February 6, 2020

In today’s connected world, you probably interacted with wireless a dozen times before breakfast. Your smartwatch jingled with an alarm to wake you up, a smart speaker played your news and the weather while you made breakfast, and on your way out the door you adjusted the temperature on your smart thermostat from your phone. All these pieces of the wireless ecosystem work together—seamlessly on wireless networks—because they were built based on industry standards and certified to meet certain technology requirements.

How Wireless Standards are Developed

It’s hard to imagine now, but when wireless was in its infancy there were just a few devices on the market, and users on different networks or different devices weren’t always able to connect to each other. Today, there are thousands of wireless devices connecting to a huge number of networks around the world, and customers can seamlessly connect across providers. This vast ecosystem exists thanks to rigorous technological standards—operational requirements determined by industry bodies.

One of the most important bodies in the wireless world is 3GPP, a collective of seven standards development organizations that cover all kinds of technology, from core networks and radio access to network architecture and security. 3GPP began meeting to establish global specifications around 3G wireless networks, and today the standards established in its working groups continue to shape how the world uses LTE, LTE-Advanced, and 5G networks.

Once standards are set, the industry begins to build toward them.

How Does Certification Work?

Whether to meet a 3GPP standard or an industry goal—like helping customers identify qualified phone repair service providers—industry organizations, including CTIA and CTIA Certification LLC, create frameworks and test plans to help providers certify that devices, network technology, and even retail experiences meet these standards. Let’s walk through a device certification process.

To start, working groups—made up of device manufacturers, providers, and other stakeholders—create a test plan designed to verify that a device meets certain requirements. Once the test plan is released, participating companies will send their devices to an authorized test lab to begin the certification process.

At the test lab, technicians follow standardized processes to test devices, checking off the requirements for the certification that were established by industry experts. When a device qualifies for certification, a notice is typically issued announcing that the device has met the requirements.

Finally, after the device gets this green light, a manufacturer can let their business partners and their consumers know that the device has met certain standards of excellence.

What are the benefits of standards and certification?

The wireless industry’s efforts to bring together a diverse set of stakeholders to establish technological best practices has led to smoother transitions between generations of wireless, and given manufacturers expectations of interoperability that they can rely on in markets around the world.

This interoperability helps shape your wireless experience— when you travel abroad and can connect your smartphone to a network in a different country, it’s because there are international standards for network technology and spectrum use. When you connect your headphones via Bluetooth® wireless technology, it’s thanks to a certification process. And when you take your phone for service to an authorized retail location, you can rest assured that the technicians are trained in repair standards determined by wireless experts.

The industry’s commitment to creating robust standards and certification programs benefit everyone on a wireless network. They foster industry innovation by asking stakeholders to design how products should meet certain goals. They help guarantee good product performance. And they allow the industry to move fast—creating certainty and economies of scale that bring products to market quickly and at low cost.

So next time you pick up your smartphone, you can rest assured knowing that decades of industry experience created the standards that guided its production and your ability to connect seamlessly to your network. As 5G service ramps up around the country, CTIA is looking forward to seeing all the ways wireless will work to help power our economy—all thanks to a track record of excellence enhanced by standards and certification.