Skylo Certified – How and Why We Certify Mobile Devices on Our Network

Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs) are revolutionizing mobile communication, necessitating stringent certification for device quality and interoperability. Skylo's certification process ensures devices are primed for its satellite network.

Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) are gaining popularity across the mobile industry, requiring certification standards that help promote quality and interoperability. Wireless carriers certify devices to ensure they meet their carrier-specific requirements. Skylo's NTN certification process is no exception. But why is certification crucial for device manufacturers and operators, and what does it entail? Let's delve deeper.

Appropriate certification requirements and the certification process play a significant role in launching a product in the wireless marketplace. Just like a well thought out airport layout helps flights run on schedule, a streamlined certification process reduces a device’s time-to-market. Chipsets, modules, and devices comprise the three fundamental certification categories. A chipset (modem) does the basic and fundamental RF processing. A module, typical for IoT devices, generally incorporates the modem, application processor, memory, and RF front-end. A device integrates either a module or a certified chipset and additional building blocks such as interfaces, antenna, display, etc.

Skylo certifies cellular chipsets (modems), modules, and devices to seamlessly integrate them into the Skylo network, typically requiring only firmware-level changes and no fundamental hardware changes. A Skylo-certified chipset can be integrated into a module or directly into a device. A device or module based on a Skylo-certified chipset goes through a minimal set of testing and leverages protocols and interoperability testing from the chipset. The chipset-leverage strategy reduces the test burdens at the module and device levels. The Skylo-certified cellular device never loses coverage as long as it has direct access to the open sky. 

Figure 1

Why is Certification Important?

Skylo’s certification process is about ensuring compatibility and interoperability between the NTN-enabled cellular device and the Skylo satellite network for an enhanced user experience with no adverse consequences. A Skylo-certified device will seamlessly and transparently communicate with the Skylo network, efficiently utilizing its resources and preventing unnecessary access attempts resulting in poor performance. For users, this means an enhanced and reliable experience.

For mobile network operators who make Skylo’s satellite services available to their users and support Skylo-certified device users, they can offer a high quality service, reduced support costs, network security and integrity, regulatory compliance, and increased customer satisfaction. 

Benefits of Certification

Skylo’s NB-IoT NTN network is 3GPP Rel-17 compliant and is augmented with Skylo-specific Standard Plus features to enhance performance. Certification covers both adherence to the 3GPP Rel-17 standard as well as Skylo’s Standard Plus features, ensuring the highest user experience and device longevity. Companies with certified devices enjoy several advantages. They can:

  • Gain compliance with the latest 3GPP NTN standards.
  • Gain compliance with Skylo’s ‘Standards Plus’ capabilities (see our blog on Skylo Standards Plus). 
  • Officially access Skylo's network.
  • Maintain compliance with certain regulatory requirements.
  • Market their devices to customers wanting to use NTN, enhancing their reach, credibility, and, for operators, increasing revenue opportunities.
  • Upon successful certification, the OEMs market their devices as “Skylo Certified.”

The Certification Process

To obtain Skylo certification, the device must satisfy both regulatory requirements and network compliance aspects. The regulatory side is tied to country-specific legalities and requires the device OEM to work with accredited third-party test labs or Notified Bodies. This is no different than what device OEMs do today. The network compliance aspect requires the device to be compatible with 3GPP Rel-17 NTN standards and Skylo’s Standard Plus requirements. 

The certification process steps are:

Step 1. Skylo provides its Certification Requirements Compliance Matrix that lists all the mandatory and optional requirements to OEMs, including chipset vendor, module vendor, or device maker. 

Step 2. The OEMs/Chipset vendors implement the requirements in their respective devices/chipsets. The requirements are typically firmware-level changes and not fundamental hardware changes.

Step 3. Implemented requirements are tested against Skylo-specific and regulatory requirements in the Skylo lab, ISO 17025 accredited 3rd party test houses, and the Skylo live commercial OTA network. Major areas of testing include:

  1. Interoperability with the Skylo network consisting of the Skylo RAN and Core network elements
  2. Regulatory, such as FCC, CE, Emission Designator, etc.
  3. Industry certification such as GCF, PTCRB
  4. CTIA OTA TIS/TRP for type 1 fixed and type 2 consumer devices
  5. Skylo specific functional, protocol, conformance, and performance
  6. Field testing in the Skylo commercial OTA RF environment

Currently, Skylo has been working with major test equipment vendors to outline specific testing requirements for its network. At the moment, Skylo has enabled both Keysight and Rohde & Schwarz to offer the Skylo-specific certification test scripts to third-party test houses. These test houses will provide Skylo with the results of device testing. 

Step 4. The test results are cross-checked against requirements. When the test results satisfy the requirements, Skylo will then run a validation on the final firmware before granting certification. 

Duration of Certification

The time it takes to achieve certification varies, depending on the type of device being certified and the priority its vendor has given the project. 

Chipsets: The chipset (modem) is the foundation upon which all devices are built. If proper care and attention is not taken initially to ensure its efficacy, then the rest of the supply chain will struggle to meet Skylo’s standards. As such, chipsets are put through a more strenuous and exhaustive process that includes comprehensive testing (such as for performance and stability), 3GPP, and Skylo Standards Plus compliance, optimization for power consumption, signal quality, documentation and review. Based on test results, a chipset may need additional revisions, which then necessitates additional rounds of testing. Chipset certification will typically take between four and six months to complete and is done hand-in-hand with Skylo engineers. 

Modules: For modules, the process can be much faster, as the base modem chipset has already been Skylo-certified. Typical certification time is about a month, but can be completed in as little as three weeks with parallel testing.

Devices: If a Skylo-certified chipset or module is being used in end-devices such as smartphones, wearables, sensors, or other IoT devices, the certification process can be completed in as little as three weeks.  

Technical Requirements and Compliance

Skylo uses an extensive set of criteria that outlines all the requirements for chipset/module/device. It highlights which elements can be tested at third-party labs, Skylo, or the vendor's premises. These criteria are codified in a matrix, which provides transparency, capturing test results for broad visibility and rapid adoption. They are updated quarterly to ensure the inclusion of new features as they are developed. Figure 2 shows an example of what the compliance matrix includes. The full document is only available to vendors who have enrolled in the certification process with Skylo. 

Figure 2

Global vs. Country-Specific Certification

The regulatory aspect varies by country. The device manufacturers must obtain certification from the regulatory body from the country in which the device will be sold and/or used. For instance, the USA mandates FCC certification, the EU demands CE, while Canada often accepts FCC results for its Industry Canada certification. This is no different than what is required for device use on cellular networks today. 

Applicable Devices and Costs

Nearly every capable cellular device is eligible for Skylo's certification. This includes a wide range of products, from consumer devices and wearables, to fixed devices like meter readers and sensors to moving devices, such as cattle or asset trackers.

To initiate certification with Skylo, a small fee is required.

Expiry of Certification

Skylo follows the Global Certification Forum’s (GCF) recommendation of a three year period before expiration. Upon expiry, certification can be renewed for another three years if necessary. Exceptions may occur based on the changing requirements for network compliance.

When and How to Get Certified?

Skylo's certification process is not just a seal of quality; it's a promise of interoperability, performance, and enhanced user experience. With the technological landscape ever-evolving, such certifications ensure that devices stay relevant, efficient, and in tune with the latest network requirements.

Manufacturers should consider certification once their product meets Skylo's requirements at a stable build level. Once met, parallel testing between third-party labs and Skylo can commence. Manufacturers must provide specific documentation and hardware upon submission, as detailed in the compliance matrix "Entrance & Certification Criteria" (Figure  3). 

Figure 3

Getting Started

Ready to start your certification process? Here are next steps: 

  • Complete this application. 
  • Skylo will review your application. 
  • Upon approval, you will be sent our Certification Requirement Compliance Matrix.
  • Our team will reach out to you for a kickoff meeting and we will commence the process. 

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