MWC16: Be Careful What You Wish For

Summary Bullets:

• The security versus privacy security is a growing threat to mobile operators, so they need to enter the debate to ensure customers continue to trust them.

• Success may be an even more pernicious problem, but the industry is showing its mettle in finding solutions.

As you read this, the madness and mayhem of MWC16 is winding down. But one of the key debates that will shape the future of the industry was taking place in the US between Apple, Google and Facebook, and the FBI. The issue is the balance between public security and personal privacy.
MWC16 showed, without question, that everyone and everything will be connected. In democracies, it is still not clear, despite years of debate, who has the right to the resultant data, and what they can do with them. It is time for the mobile industry to take a more visibly active role in the debate to ensure that they continue to be trusted agents for private communications.

Even if the connected devices are not actually mobile, mobile network operators are moving heaven and earth (aka the standards bodies) to provide capacity. The MNOs aim to ensure they aren’t shut out of the static device market, which, according Ericsson, promises to be seven times bigger than the mobile device market in terms of connections.

If the volume of announcements raising fear, uncertainty and doubt over security is any indication, then this is a serious concern for the industry. Telefonica hyped the issue prior to MWC by announcing that the world is “sleepwalking” into an insecure Internet of Things. This was to prepare the ground for product announcements from its ElevenPaths subsidiary, which it claims slams the door on the bad guys.

The industry has built secure networks for decades to handle private correspondence or manage critical infrastructure. But we have now much larger scale, more data and invariably public access networks. Solutions range from better authentication of senders and receivers to dedicated M2M/IoT networks, with data encrypted end-to-end, and analysis of traffic data to spot anomalies. All are on sale; there is no excuse.

The industry’s success to date is a more pernicious threat because its coping mechanisms depend on fundamental physics, good engineering and good regulation. The GSMA is warning of armageddon if its members don’t get more and cheaper spectrum. More practically, the MulteFire alliance is looking to let LTE operators “play nicely” with Wi-Fi operators in the unlicensed 5GHz band, while the Wi-Fi Alliance is looking to use the 900MHz band to extend Wi-Fi coverage, especially for IoT applications.

If nothing else, MWC16 showcased the ingenuity and creativity of the people in the industry in addressing these crucial issues. They need also to apply those qualities to address the political and social problems their success has created.

What do you think?

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