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TechTank

Unlocking the potential of the Internet of Things

Darrell M. West and Jack Karsten

On October 21, the Center for Technology Innovation (CTI) hosted an event titled How the Internet of Things is transforming the global economy. CTI’s Darrell West moderated a panel discussion that featured Glenn Lurie of AT&T Mobility, Meredith Attwell Baker of CTIA-The Wireless Association, and CTI Nonresident Senior Fellow John Villasenor. The discussion covered the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) both in terms of the number of connected devices and the amount of data they produce. This growth presents some opportunities for some exciting new applications for IoT as well as some challenges in upgrading wireless infrastructure and securing networks of connected devices.

Numerous applications for IoT

Many smartphone users already appreciate the power of having an Internet-connected device in their pockets. That same power will extend to many more people in developing countries as the price of basic smartphones continues to fall. The biggest impacts from IoT may come from outside the realm of consumer electronics, however. As the price of sensors also fall, larger numbers of industrial machines and equipment will be connected to a network to provide constant streams of performance data.

The ability to track the data from sensors has applications in many different areas. For example, measuring energy consumption with sensors could lead to significant savings as inefficient devices are identified. Health care delivery would benefit from sensors that monitor patients remotely. The panelists also referenced the idea of a “smart city” where vehicles and traffic lights are wirelessly connected to improve traffic flows and reduce the number of accidents.

Security and infrastructure challenges

Capturing the benefits of the Internet of Things will not happen without effort, however. The traffic created by a large increase in the number of connected devices will strain existing wireless infrastructure unless upgrades can be made. Rural areas with few people may lack needed wireless coverage, while urban areas may have too many devices to handle. Further complicating the issue is the fundamentally limited quantity of wireless spectrum available for IoT devices. Fortunately, wireless carriers and industry groups are already collaborating to design the next generation of wireless technology with IoT in mind.

Device security is another critical factor for ensuring a functional Internet of Things. Last summer’s Jeep Cherokee hack brought these security challenges into sharp focus. As more complex devices like cars are joined together in a wireless network, there are vulnerabilities that will need to be addressed. According to John Villasenor, “The Internet of Things will be useless unless it is an Internet of Secure Things.” The challenges of cybersecurity and wireless infrastructure must be overcome in order to fully realize the benefits of the Internet of Things.

Watch the full webcast here and contribute to the discussion of the Internet of Things by leaving comments below.

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