From 1 January 1997, all IT equipment sold in Australia will have to be manufactured in compliance with a new elec- tromagnetic compatibility (EMC) framework mandated by the Canberra-based Spectrum Management Agency (SMA). The scheme limits emissions in the frequency range 9kHz to 400GHz for information technology equipment. It has been adopted as part of the Radio Communications Act from a recommendation by Standards Australia/ New Zealand.
Because the EMC framework adoption follows similar moves in other parts of the world over the last decade, the new regulations are not expected to have a major effect on the computer industry in Australia. "Most of the major IT manufacturers - the IBMs and the Apples and the Compaqs - are already in compliance. They've seen this coming for a number of years," said Ian McAllister, manager of the SMA's Radio Com-munications Standards Group.
"What we're doing is coming into line with what's been going on in the US and Europe for the past several years," McAllister said. "Most of the IT manufacturers address interference concerns at the design stage, where it's very easy and inexpensive to do. Retrofitting equipment to comply with the framework would be very expensive, but we're not going to be seeing a lot of that."
McAllister says the new regulations follow three years of development and public education on the part of the Spectrum Management Agency. "I don't think you're going to find many people who are caught off guard," he said. "In fact, we've had a lot of support from the IT industry. These new limits will, if anything, help the manufacturers flog their products. If a computer is susceptible to interference, no one will buy it."
Most manufacturers agree with McAllister. "We manufacture all of our products in compliance with interference standards in the US and Europe, where the laws are quite strict, so these new limits will not affect us," said Sydney-based John Frank, PC product manager for NEC.
"The new regulations won't change a thing, as they're really just an adoption of the interna- tional standards to which we already adhere," said Ian Harvey, technical director for Compaq.
Although the new regulations place limits on acceptable levels of emissions from IT equipment, they do not address shielding concerns. "You'd think that the regulations would address both outgoing and incoming interference," NEC's Frank said.
Moreover, the new regulations may only be scratching the surface when it comes to electromagnetic compatibility. "In developed areas, the biggest source of interference is fluorescent lighting," said Jim Rowe, editor of Electronics Australia. "However, the SMA can't really do anything about that, because the problem is too massive and would be far too expensive to fix. They've got to start somewhere, though, so they're concentrating on new electronic equipment - because that's a more manageable project. More power to the SMA for seeking to limit interference, but it's a bit like controlling pollution from cars, but ignoring trucks and buses."