5G and the IoT: A Look Ahead at What’s Next for Your Home and Community
October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which is led by the U.S. government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in conjunction with the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA)—a national non-profit focused on cybersecurity education & awareness. McAfee is pleased to announce that we’re a proud participant.
Imagine it’s 20 years ago and someone at a dinner party predicts that one day you could pop down to the appliance store and buy an internet-connected fridge. Your year 2000 self might have shook that off and then then asked, “Why would someone ever do that?”
Yet here we are.
Today, so much is getting connected. Our appliances, security systems, and even our coffeemakers too. So far this month, we’ve talked about protecting these connected things and securing these new digital frontiers as Internet of Things (IoT) devices transform not only our homes, but businesses and communities as well.
To wrap up Cybersecurity Awareness Month, let’s take a look ahead at how the next wave of connected devices could take shape by taking a look at the network that billions of them will find themselves on: 5G networks.
5G is the key
You’ve no doubt seen plenty of commercials from the big mobile carriers as they tout the rollout of their new, more powerful 5G networks. And more powerful they are. For starters, 5G is expected to operate roughly 10 times faster than the 4G LTE networks many of us enjoy now—with the potential to get yet faster than that over time.
While mention of faster speeds continues to be the top selling point in ads and the like, 5G offers another pair of big benefits: greater bandwidth and lower latency. Taken together, that means 5G networks can host more devices than before and with a near-instantaneous response time.
The implication of these advances is that billions and billions of new devices will connect to mobile networks directly, at terrific speeds, rather than to Wi-Fi networks. Of those, many billions will be IoT devices. And that means more than just phones.
What will those devices look like?
One answer is plenty more of what we’re already starting to see today—such as commercial and industrial devices that track fleet vehicles, open locks on tractor trailer deliveries based on location, monitor heating and air conditioning systems, oversee supply chains. We’ll also see more devices that manage traffic, meter utilities, and connect devices used in healthcare, energy, and agriculture. That’s in addition to the ones we’ll own ourselves, like wearables and even IoT tech in our cars.
All together, we’ll add about 15 billion new IoT devices to the 26 billion IoT devices already in play today for a total of an expected 41 billion IoT devices in 2025.
Securing 5G and the IoT
Citing those examples of IoT applications underscores the critical need for safety and security in the new 5G networks. This is a network we will count on in numerous ways. Businesses will trust their operations to the IoT devices that operate on it. Cities will run their infrastructure on 5G IoT devices. And we, as people, will use 5G networks for everything from entertainment to healthcare. Not only will IoT devices themselves need protection, yet the networks will need to be hardened for protection as well. And you can be certain that increased network security, and security in general, is a part of our future forecast.
The GSMA, an industry group representing more than 750 operators in the mobile space, calls out the inherent need for security for 5G networks in their 5G Reference Guide for Operators. In their words, “New threats will be developed as attackers are provided live service environment to develop their techniques. 5G is the first generation that recognizes this threat and has security at its foundation.” When you consider the multitude of devices and the multitude of applications that will find their way onto 5G, a “square one” emphasis on security makes absolute sense. It’s a must.
While standards and architectures are taking shape and in their first stages of implementation, we can expect operators to put even more stringent defenses in place, like improved encryption, ways of authenticating devices to ensure they’re not malicious, creating secure “slices” of the network, and more, which can all improve security.
Another consideration for security beyond the oncoming flood of emerging devices and services that’ll find their way onto 5G networks is the sheer volume of traffic and data they’ll generate. One estimate puts that figure of 5G traffic at 79.4 zettabytes (ZB) of data in 2025. (What’s a zettabyte? Imagine a 10 followed by 21 zeroes.) This will call for an evolution in security that makes further use of machine learning and AI to curb a similarly increased volume of threats—with technologies much like you see in our McAfee security products today.
The newest IoT devices making their way into your home
“Siri/Alexa/Cortana/Google, play Neko Case I Wish I Was the Moon.”
We’ve all gotten increasingly comfy with the idea of connected devices in our homes, like our smart assistants. Just in 2018, Juniper Research estimated that there’d be some 8 billion digital voice assistants globally by 2023, thanks in large part to things like smart TVs and other devices for the home. Expect to see more IoT devices like those available for use in and around your house.
What shape and form might they take? Aside from the voice-activated variety, plenty of IoT devices will help us automate our homes more and more. For example, you might have smart sensors in your garden that can tell when your tomatoes are thirsty and activate your soaker hoses for a drink—or other smart sensors placed near your water heater that will text you when they detect a leak.
Beyond that, we’re already purchasing connected lights and smart thermostats, yet how about connecting these things all together to create presets for your home? Imagine a setting called “Movie Night,” where just a simple voice command draws the shades, lowers the lights, turns on the gas fireplace, and fires up the popcorn maker. All you need to do is get your slippers.
Next, add in a degree of household AI, which can learn your preferences and habits. Aspects of your home may run themselves and predict things for you, like the fact that you like your coffee piping hot at 5:30am on Tuesdays. Your connected coffeemaker will have it ready for you.
These scenarios were once purely of the George Jetson variety (remember him?), yet more and more people will get to indulge in these comforts and conveniences as the technology becomes more pervasive and affordable.
Technology for All
One point of consideration with any emerging technology like the IoT on 5G is access.
This year drove home a hard reality: access to high-speed internet, whether via mobile device or a home network is no longer a luxury. It’s a utility. Like running water. We need it to work. We need it to study. We need it to bank, shop, and simply get things done.
Yet people in underserved and rural communities in the U.S. still have no access to broadband internet in their homes. Nearly 6 in 10 of U.S. parents with lower incomes say their child may face digital obstacles in schoolwork because of reduced access to devices and quality internet service. And I’ve heard anecdotes from educators about kids taking classes online who have to pull into their school’s parking lot to get proper Wi-Fi, simply because they don’t have a quality connection at home.
The point is this: as these IoT innovations continue to knit their way into our lives and the way the world works, we can’t forget that there’s still a digital divide that will take years of effort, investment, and development before that gap gets closed. And I see us closing that gap in partnership, as people and communities, businesses and governments, all stand to benefit when access to technology increases.
So as we look to the future, my hope is that we all come to see high-speed internet connections for what they are—an absolute essential—and take the steps needed to deliver on it. That’s an advance I’d truly embrace.