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Electric Industry Commenters Focus on IoT Spectrum and Cybersecurity Issues

Randy Sukow Jun 7, 2016

The key issues to consider as American companies continue to develop Internet of Things (IoT) systems are spectrum and online security, said organizations connected with electric power in comments to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

“The electric industry is concerned that the lack of adequate spectrum, potential congestion and interference, and inadequate attention to cybersecurity risk by IoT technology developers will impede the deployment of the Smart Grid and could negatively affect the reliability, resiliency and security of the grid as well as impede progress towards achieving national goals regarding clean power and energy efficiency,” said the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) in its NTIA comments.

NTIA called for public comments earlier this spring seeking views from the several industries that IoT technologies already have touched. It asked for the steps government should take to promote the technology.  Approximately 130 organizations from several industries responded.

Many commenters mentioned the need not just for spectrum, but for unlicensed spectrum. The FCC has already begun considering a new unlicensed band as part of future 5G implementation. Some favor establishing a very high-frequency unlicensed band at 64-71 GHz, where wide channels would support fast communications similar to fiber.

“There is growing industry consensus in the U.S. around mesh networking technologies that utilize unlicensed band for last-mile communications,” said Silver Spring Networks, a manufacturer of smart grid devices. “Because this particular spectrum is free, flexible, available, and effective [in terms of propagation characteristics for IoT communications], wireless mesh networking technologies can provide ubiquitous coverage cost-effectively and become enable IoT networks to become more, not less, robust as additional endpoints are added, in comparison to radial networks.”

“Where appropriate, Congress should [encourage] the reallocation of government spectrum for unlicensed operations, promoting policies that recognize the critical role of spectrum dedicated for unlicensed operations,”  said the Wi-Fi Alliance, an association of manufacturers that produces unlicensed wireless devices. “Shared spectrum is ideal for IoT communications, which tend to be episodic, occasionally transmitting small bursts of data rather than maintaining continuous, high-speed data streams.”

The alliance said that unlicensed spectrum is especially important for home IoT systems, such as smart thermostats. Consumer-oriented devices should not have to be subject to complex FCC licensing or to fees from licensed commercial wireless carriers, it said.

Nest Labs Inc., one of the early leaders in home thermostat devices, focused its comments more on the cybersecurity issue than spectrum. Its main concern was that governments not go too far to regulate IoT devices. “Regulators should provide companies with appropriate latitude to develop and employ practicable, effective methods of informing their customers of their practices, while not unduly impeding the deployment of new technologies,” it said.

EEI suggested a light-touch regulatory approach would be to improve best-practices for device manufacturers and developing strategies to help them comply them more with currently existing best practices. “The challenge will be in getting IoT innovators to use these practices, especially if they are new companies with fewer resources to focus on secure software development,” EEI said. “This presents a good role for the Department of Commerce and the federal government—to help innovators address security.”

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