The “Internet of Things” (IoT) exists on such a large scale, and presents so many opportunities for economic and social benefit, that it can be difficult to fully grasp. The first thing you often hear people say about IoT is that it means everything will be connected. Experts and prescient minds estimate that by the end of this decade the IoT will consist of 25 to 50 billion devices and will add $15 trillion to the global economy. These numbers are big, and the opportunities are even greater, so how can the U.S. and the world position itself to embrace all that IoT has to offer?
While there are numerous issues that need to be ironed out before IoT and the 5G platform it will operate on come into play, it’s important to note that the 4G LTE network we’re currently operating on has a lot left to offer. We are most likely five years away from living in a world where the IoT and 5G are fully embedded in our lives, and the U.S. is in great shape to set the standards for both considering we are the global leader in 4G. However in order to allow this evolution to take place, spectrum, security, and regulatory humility are critical.
Spectrum is a finite resource, you cannot innovate or invent more of it, so we need to make the most efficient use of what we have. The IoT will drive six to seven times more internet traffic, and an abundant quantity of spectrum is critical to ensure out networks will operate at max capacity. Luckily we are taking some important steps today such as investing in better infrastructure and exploring other bandwidths that can be used. The government, who holds the most spectrum, is also helping by freeing up higher bandwidths for consumer use, but we need to press our elected officials to move faster.
The IoT presents many opportunities for economic and social benefit. Whether it be monitoring the energy output of your home for purposes of conservation or giving you real-time analytics on your health and vitals, the IoT offers enormous potential. However a massive number of connected devices also creates the need for better security. Innovation is an accelerating train, and the market incentives to improve connectivity can sometimes outpace the need to ensure secure networks. It is important that mobile operators and the private sector pay close attention to the security of their products and prevent unintended linkages between devices that leave them vulnerable to hackers and nefarious third parties.
Lastly, innovation is moving rapidly and the sprint towards IoT and 5G has already begun. It’s no secret that government and regulatory agencies operate on a slower pace, and this is only compounded when you factor in the “regulatory soup” that will emerge when you have numerous industries working together to bring connectivity to every device. Working towards a climate of regulatory humility is critical to making sure that consumers in the U.S. and around the globe are able to fully realize the benefits IoT has to offer.
Eli Love is chief of staff at CALinnovates