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Enabling Information and Communications Technology Infrastructure for IoT Expansion

January 26, 2017 by Lindsay M. Miller, Partner

Enabling Information and Communications Technology Infrastructure for IoT Expansion

As shared in this post, the Department of Commerce’s (“Department”) National Telecommunications and Information Administration ("NTIA") released a green paper, Fostering the Advancement of the Internet of Things, on January 12, 2017. In the paper, the Department outlines its plans to work on Internet of Things (“IoT”) matters across four broad areas of engagement: enabling the nation’s infrastructure availability and access is one of such areas.

The continued deployment of IoT and connected devices will dramatically increase demands on the nation’s legacy and all-Internet Protocol infrastructure. To review the current technological and policy landscape related to IoT, the Department issued a Request for Comment in April 2016. In their responses, commenters were clear that wireless and wireline infrastructure, spectrum availability, and standards need to be deployed, developed, and maintained in order to ensure that IoT reaches its full potential through seamless connectivity.

As it relates to wireless and wireline infrastructure, the Department notes that there are ongoing efforts across the country to increase broadband deployment and adoption, which is likely to have a positive multiplier effect on IoT usage and functionality. However, the Department also acknowledges that, while access to broadband-enabled resources can improve the lives of citizens, a lack of access can further disadvantage underserved communities and create inequity. 
It is essential that government and the private sector work together to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to reap the benefits brough by IoT. NTIA's green paper

Further, despite these ongoing efforts, the Department notes that there are persistent hurdles to network deployment. For example, although large-scale small cell deployment is not only imminent, but essential for cities to obtain the full benefits of the upcoming 5G revolution and the integration of IoT into municipal functions, cities are naturally protective of their right-of-way and the aesthetics of their communities. The Department notes that these barriers can be exacerbated by emerging technologies that require more infrastructure than legacy systems. However, many cities have already recognized the need to implement smart facilities for the public good, such as traffic control, public safety, utility monitoring, and more.

In addition to enhanced broadband access, the Department projects that a shortage of spectrum could also become a constraint on the growth of IoT. As defined by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), “spectrum” is “the range of electromagnetic radio frequencies used in the transmission of sound, data and television.” Spectrum can be licensed or unlicensed. Licensed spectrum gives an entity exclusive right to a frequency band for a particular application; unlicensed spectrum can be used for any purpose without a license. Several commenters were in consensus that additional licensed and unlicensed spectrum will be needed to support IoT.

Further, as the demand for internet connectivity continues to grow, so will the number of devices connected via Internet Protocol addresses (“IP addresses”). According to the paper, the IP system most used currently is Internet Protocol version 4 (“IPv4”). IPv4 was created in the 1970s and has 4.3 billion possible addresses; far fewer than the number of IP address that IoT expansion will demand. Internet Protocol version 6 (“IPv6”) was created in the 1990s and offers 340 trillion addresses. The Department will continue to encourage the adoption of IPv6, but the majority of internet traffic has not transitioned from IPv4. According to comments highlighted in the paper, IoT devices that do not fully implement IPv6 are vulnerable to network attacks and malware.

In addition to infrastructure needs, the Department provides several examples of initiatives that are currently in place. For example:

  • The Broadband Opportunities Council (“BOC”) includes 25 federal agencies and departments, and engages with industry and other stakeholders to understand how the federal government can better support the needs of communities seeking broadband.
  • The NTIA’s “Using Partnerships to Power a Smart City: A Toolkit for Local Communities” guide for creating successful public-private partnerships.
  • NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (“ITS”) is creating a technically neutral body of knowledge and expertise to inform future policy related to spectrum use and incumbent spectrum users that are collocated and/ or in adjacent spectrum bands.
  • The First Responder Network Authority (“FirstNet”) Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (“NPSBN”), once operational, is intended to transform public safety and first responder communications by providing dedicated access over a prioritized, reliable, and secure mobile connection. This will enable text, voice, video, images, location information, and other data in real time to help increase situational awareness.

As next steps, the Department proposes to: (1) coordinate with the public and private sector for ongoing infrastructure expansion, adoption, and use; (2) innovate in spectrum management; (3) expand digital inclusion efforts to include an emphasis on IoT; (4) encourage IPv6 adoption; and (5) collect data and conduct analysis on the use and growth of IoT devices through its Digital Nation data collection in order to better inform industry and policy makers.

Lindsay Miller is an attorney in Ice Miller’s public affairs and government law group and a member of the Internet of Things Industry Group. Read Ice Miller’s IoT Smart Connections guide here.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances. 

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