AT&T's Lurie, CTIA's Baker see great promise in Internet of Things, but warn over over-regulation

AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) CEO Glenn Lurie and CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker said that several different elements need to come together to enable the United States to fully take advantage of the Internet of Things, including more spectrum, security and infrastructure and a light-touch regulatory environment that lets wireless companies invest.


Speaking at an event at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C., Baker said that the economic impact of the IoT is "huge" and that it has the potential to improve people's lives in areas as disparate as healthcare, transportation and education. She also noted, though, that CTIA predicts IoT will increase total wireless data traffic by 6 to 7 times by 2020.

"We're going to have to have more spectrum," she said, a familiar refrain for CTIA, and predicted the industry will need 350 MHz more spectrum. Baker also praised FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's decision to circulate a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes a framework for flexible spectrum use rules for bands above 24 GHz, which will be voted on tomorrow by the FCC.

Lurie said AT&T has invested in IoT for years and will continue to do so. "A device that is not connected is dumb," he said. "It cannot connect with other devices. It cannot connect with you." At the same time, Lurie acknowledged that many people have concerns about all of the devices in their lives -- at home, work and in their cars -- being connected.

"We as an industry have to make it easy," he said, adding that the wider industry needs to improve people's lives and solve problems.

John Villasenor, a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings' Center for Technology Innovation, said that security is critical in an IoT world and that "the Internet of Things will be largely useless if it's not an Internet of secure things."

Villasenor, who is also a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted that just a few months ago Fiat Chrysler vehicles were proven to be vulnerable to hacking and remote manipulation. "When you have these very complex systems," he said, technology can sometimes create unintended linkages.

"Cybersecurity is going to be an absolutely central portion of getting the IoT to do all the amazing things it can do," Villasenor added, noting that the market incentivizes a rush to get everything connected but not necessarily securely connected.

Lurie agreed that "security has got to be paramount."

Villasenor said that as the IoT develops he hopes it can be used in developing countries where it could have a large impact on people's daily lives, such as monitoring water supplies and other areas where connected devices can "tangibly make an enormous improvement" in people's lives.

Lurie noted that the Industrial Internet is the "most exciting and most on fire" aspect of IoT with companies all over the world looking to IoT and data analytics to make themselves more efficient and improve products and services for customers. He noted that AT&T is working with companies that ship grain and other crops and need to monitor the temperature in trucks that ship the food items, because if the trucks get too hot, entire crops can be lost. Once a company got that capability, it was able to more efficiently route its trucks. Lurie said such a solution is actually relatively simple to enable that solution.

Baker said she worries about Washington politics and over-regulation as the wireless industry, through IoT, gets more enmeshed in disparate industries, from healthcare to energy to transportation. She noted that there are numerous federal agencies that regulate those other industries and said "we need to make sure we don't inhibit the opportunities that are out there with our regulatory process."

Lurie said AT&T is investing billions of dollars every year into its wireless network and expanding IoT opportunities. "We just need to be left alone and continue to invest and innovate," he said.

For more:
- see this Brookings page

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