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The IoT in the Real World: An Armchair Discussion with Stacey Higginbotham

shutterstock_371253775-300x200Connected devices are everywhere and create a wealth of data.  How do we understand and use this data?  And how do we protect it against disclosure and attack? 

With questions like these, Stacey Higginbotham, creator of the Internet of Things Podcast and the “Stacey Knows Things” newsletter, launched an “armchair discussion” about the Internet of Things (“IoT”) during Hogan Lovells’ recent Winnik International Telecoms & Internet Forum.  The discussion featured Dean Brenner, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs for Qualcomm Incorporated and Jonathan Adelstein, President and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

Brenner acknowledged that the industry is enthusiastic about having 5G wireless communications technology eventually serving as the IoT’s backbone but noted that a future network cannot transport today’s data.  Existing smart devices have to rely on the cellular, Wi-Fi, low-power wide area and proprietary networks currently in place to enable their functions.  The alternatives are improving: in response to the increased demand for IoT connectivity, major U.S. wireless carriers are starting to deploy technologies to specifically support IoT devices, such as LTE CAT-M.  There is no “one and done” solution, however.  Adelstein noted that ensuring that there is enough capacity to support the growing IoT industry will continue to require significant network infrastructure investment—even beyond 5G.

The conversation then turned to data privacy and security issues.  Brenner said he remained concerned that one data breach could harm the entire IoT sector.  He highlighted the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach to securing data privacy in this context.  Higginbotham agreed with the benefits of multi-stakeholder solutions, but contested Brenner’s premise.  According to Higginbotham, sizeable data breaches in the IoT sector have already occurred and yet the IoT industry continues to thrive.  Adelstein also supported following a multi-stakeholder approach to enhance privacy and security, and added that while truly sensitive data must be carefully protected, deploying the networks that make the IoT possible requires significant investments in infrastructure.  Finding a privacy and security solution that allows networks to monetize data, Adelstein asserted, should also be a priority.

Higginbotham, Brenner and Adelstein also discussed the challenges of understanding the data generated by connected devices.  Saving money can be as profitable as making money.  But Higginbotham asked how anyone could measure the value of the IoT when so many IoT devices and applications seek to prevent negative outcomes and avoid costs?  Brenner and Adelstein agreed on the problem.  They said the industry needs to identify better value measurements to show companies, governments and consumers how the IoT benefits them financially.