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Internet of Things September 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Guy Garrud

More Frequency Turf Wars

Why is this topic significant?

Allocation of the potentially lucrative 6 GHz frequency spectrum is an area of competition and regulatory conflict between cellular telecom companies and companies developing next-generation Wi-Fi.

Description

In 2018, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued its notice of proposed rule making about the potential for unlicensed users to transmit in the 6-gigahertz (GHz) frequency band (technically, 5.925 to 7.125 GHz). Currently, cellular networks mostly use the 6 GHz band as part of their backhaul network. However, under the new proposals, the frequency band would open up to unlicensed use and, in particular, next-generation Wi-Fi networks could make use of it.

Cellular-network companies have expressed concerns that allowing unlicensed use of this frequency band could result in interference in their backhaul networks. In response, a group of major tech companies—including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft—have proposed allowing low-power Wi-Fi devices to use the 6 GHz band because these devices are unlikely to interfere with existing backhaul systems.

Implications

The potential for next-generation Wi-Fi and cellular signals to interfere with one another is not a new fear (see "Frequency Spectrum Wild West" in the July 2018 Viewpoints). Nor does the issue seem to be approaching a resolution anytime soon.

Confusingly, both big-tech companies and cellular-network operators appear to be placing 5G at the core of their arguments for why the FCC should favor them when deciding how best to allocate access to the 6 GHz frequency band. In part, the focus on 5G is because people widely understand 5G to be an important next-generation network technology, but both sides' focusing on 5G also reflects the confusing umbrella term that 5G has become. From an IoT perspective, the more interesting parts of 5G are actually at the lower end of the energy spectrum (typically in the kilohertz regions), with low-power devices communicating small amounts of data over large distances. Yet the 5G term also covers a range of technologies up to and including millimeter-wavelength microwave communication (20 to 60 GHz).

One of the interesting aspects of tech companies' appeal to the FCC is the focus on technologies and hardware that are yet to reach the market and may still be some years out. In particular, large tech companies are highlighting the need for high-bandwidth low-latency connections for mobile augmented-reality and virtual-reality headsets. Likewise, much of the discussion addresses only the prospect of low-power 6 GHz mobile devices' interfering with legacy backhaul networks, whereas cellular-network operators may be envisioning more advanced uses of the 6 GHz frequencies for more than just narrow-beam transmission between masts.

Impacts/Disruptions

Decisions now will likely influence the design of cellular networks in the United States and Wi-Fi hardware the world over for the next decade or more. More important, the issue of wireless signal interference is likely to become only more significant with time, particularly as consumers and businesses seek to make wider use of wireless actuators and sensors for smart home applications and smart industry and business applications. So although current fears of interference mostly center on the higher-frequency bands, interference in lower-frequency ranges could be a significant issue down the line.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Telecoms, portable electronics, mesh networking, hardware manufacturing, augmented reality

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Ring's Role in Neighborhood Surveillance

By David Strachan-Olson
Strachan-Olson is a consultant with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Ring is leveraging its hardware products into a community-based surveillance platform that assists law enforcement with investigations.

Description

Ring is one of the leading manufacturers of home internet-protocol (IP) security cameras, primarily with its camera/doorbell product. Ring's success led Amazon.com to acquire the company in early 2018. Since Amazon's takeover, Ring has continued to expand its product line and has also released the Neighbors app, a platform for community-based neighborhood watch. The platform enables users to post and share information about suspicious behavior in their community, including video from Ring doorbell cameras.

Ring has also developed a law-enforcement portal as part of the Neighbors platform and has partnered with over 400 police departments in the United States. Through the platform, law-enforcement officers can comment on user posts and request video footage related to criminal activity. Using the portal, officers can specify a time and location related to a crime, and the Neighbors app notifies users whose Ring cameras might have useful video recordings. The owners can verify the videos and then make them available to officers.

In an effort to increase the Neighbors user base and increase the number of Ring cameras in a neighborhood, Ring provides police departments with a number of incentives if they can convince residents to join Neighbors and purchase Ring products. Ring has also developed partnerships with a number of police departments to access data from emergency computer-aided dispatch systems. Ring analyzes and curates dispatch information to provide localized alerts within the Neighbors app.

Implications

Ring is doing an excellent job at leveraging its hardware success to develop a platform. Although the Neighbors app can use video and photos from any source, the wealth of data potentially available to the platform through Ring's camera doorbells is very powerful. In many IoT applications, a significant portion of a business opportunity's value does not come from hardware itself but instead from the control of higher-level platforms, software, and data. Currently, Ring has made no obvious moves that indicate how it plans to monetize the Neighbors platform beyond encouraging more camera purchases. However, once Neighbors has a sizable user base, Ring could begin incorporating other services into the platform.

Impacts/Disruptions

As Ring has expanded the Neighbors platform, the company has begun to receive some public backlash. One criticism of the platform is that it encourages extensive information sharing with police officers, who no longer need to have a subpoena or warrant for videos in many cases. Additionally, critics have raised concerns that Ring could incorporate facial-recognition technology using Amazon Rekognition. An Amazon patent suggests that facial-recognition technology in a doorbell could flag "suspicious" people automatically. Such criticisms are in the context of a larger discussion that privacy advocates, politicians, and cities—including San Francisco, California—are having about limiting government and law-enforcement use of facial-recognition technology.

Ring's platform appears to be very useful for law enforcement, but the platform also raises a number of societal questions that lawmakers will need to address. Meanwhile, as Ring sells more IP cameras and encourages the use of Neighbors, it will cement its dominant position as a community-based neighborhood-watch app and as a platform from which police can access information.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Home security, IP cameras, community watch, law enforcement, local social networks

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: