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After dangling one of the world’s coolest gadgets in front of attendees at the 2007 San Francisco Mac Expo for the better part of two hours, Steve Jobs broke thousands of hearts by setting iPhone’s release date a few seasons down the road: “We’re announcing it today because with products like this we gotta go and get FCC approval, which takes a few months. We thought it would be better if we introduced this rather than ask the FCC to introduce it for us.”
As it turns out, Apple applied for Federal Communications Commission approval on March 8 and iPhone was cleared for sale on May 17, some 70 days later; Apple, in turn, began selling the handset on June 29.
For phonemakers, the path to FCC approval is a relatively long one, namely because it signifies the very end of the design process. When a company submits a product to the government agency, it has already completed all testing and due diligence, and merely needs the commission’s stamp for sale, which is why Steve was able to show off the iPhone without fear of rejection. Basically, the FCC needs to know the product in question isn’t going to be harmful to consumers and complies “with FCC limits for human exposure to radiofrequency emissions.” In its iPhone filing, Apple submitted reports from CETECOM Inc., a facility “fully equipped and accredited to offer a wide range of services in mobile communications, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, EMC, and regulatory approvals.” Any concerns would have been reported back to Apple before filing with the FCC, ensuring a speedy approval process.
In order to file, companies need first obtain an FCC identification code (Apple’s is BCG). Filings must include the device’s model number (A1203 for iPhone) and all supporting documentation --- including SAR (Specific Energy Absorption Rate) and GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) test results, internal and external photographs, user manual, and location of compliance label information (which Apple etches on the reverse side of iPhone) --- with the electronic or paper applications (forms 731 and 159) and the appropriate fee ($455 in iPhone’s case). In its iPhone filing, Apple also requested 45-day confidentiality for some iPhone documents, including photographs and the user manual. Additionally, it asked the FCC to restrict the following documents from public viewing: block diagram, operational description, schematic, bill of material, tune-up procedure and exhibit notes.
For a 3G iPhone, however, the process may be a bit quicker. If Apple can simply incorporate the rumored Infineon chip into the existing handset --- that is, if the current model has sufficient capabilities for 3G expansion without the need to modify any of the other components --- Apple need only submit a “change in identification of (presently certified) equipment” form and pay a $60 fee. The process is significantly shorter than full approval, and Apple wouldn’t need nearly as large of a window for filing.
However, if the rumors of a “radically different” iPhone or “multiple versions” are to be believed, Apple needs to get right back in line and submit forms 731 and 159 all over again; and in order to get iPhone 2.0 on shelves in time for WWDC, a filing would need to be imminent. What’s more likely in the event of a June unveiling, however, is another waiting period --- albeit significantly shorter. Apple is already familiar with the process and is in a better position to gauge the timing of a submission, so think of a release date closer to six weeks, rather than six months from the announcement.
The notion of a 3G iPhone has been one of Apple’s worst-kept secrets, and Steve probably won’t be as concerned about the FCC spilling the beans this time around; even if the filing were to pop up ahead of the conference, virtually everything about the phone would be kept under wraps, save the existence of a new model or models, of course.
Something else to consider: Six months from the WWDC keynote’s likely timeslot of 10 a.m. PST on June 9 is Dec. 9, dangerously close to the end of the holiday shopping season. Plus, Apple’s usual iPod refreshes drop in early September, so expect iPhone 2.0 to land in store sometime around the end of July with the full blessing of the FCC.
Besides, I’m not so sure if the 3G iPhone watchers are willing to wait another six months.