The Internet of Things (IoT) has become ubiquitous, and the number of connected devices is expected to grow to 29.3 billion by 2023. Millions of new devices go online each year at the start of the school year and after the holidays, and you can even watch the popularity of IoT devices fluctuate with the seasons. These devices are becoming more integral to daily life as they bring power to our homes, streamline our work processes and make communications more convenient.
When adopted at scale, these devices require faster networks with higher capacities to fulfil their connectivity needs. And while IoT has already found use in many business sectors — providing information, automation and other services that wouldn’t have been possible before — many organizations overlook the challenges IoT devices pose to 5G networks when it comes to securing network architecture. As someone whose company works with advanced AI algorithms that monitor and protect IoT devices, the following are some of those challenges I have seen posed by IoT devices to 5G networks.
Increase in Bandwidth Needs
In very simple terms, the internet is a combination of networks, which are administered by various public and private organizations and facilitated by a collection of internet exchange points (IXPs). This distributed structure makes the internet resilient and robust, but the exponential increase in bandwidth requirements and capacity in 5G networks (due to higher IoT device numbers) might become a significant issue for IXPs in the coming years.
With the growing demand and use of cloud computing, the need for bandwidth and internet speed will also increase. This is extremely relevant when we talk about IoT devices, as some manufacturers try to solve IoT security issues by only connecting devices through the cloud. Failure to address these needs as 5G rolls out might create issues for a significant number of internet users and businesses.
Digital Infrastructure and Interdependence
Due to the far-reaching and transformative nature of IoT-based projects and their intrinsic complexity, poorly implemented industrial IoT solutions might create infrastructural risks for network service providers. The digital infrastructure creates many interdependent processes that depend on connectivity.
As more industrial IoT devices go online and factories further automate their operations, entire production lines might be negatively affected if a single type of sensor becomes vulnerable to cyberattacks. A sophisticated denial-of-service (DoS) attack on such devices might cause a cascade effect and create service gaps. It is vital that leaders deliver appropriate support and service concerns to IoT teams.
These potential issues are a challenge to both network operators and infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders, who must carefully assess the needs and potential issues of the IoT projects under their control. Their responsibilities go beyond evaluating cloud dependencies and infrastructural needs for daily operations, and they must include worst-case security scenarios such as mirrored DDoS attacks on devices.
5G Big Data Management
The radical transition of most industrial sectors to 5G networks is the driving factor for the near future growth of massive data exchange. With the growing popularity and demand of IoT technologies, data management becomes more complex for 5G networks.
Most of the new IoT devices will be small, relatively powerful and low cost, making them prolific. Add to this the fact that industrial IoT devices are expected to work for many years, even when placed in harsh environments, and the growing bandwidth and security demands posed by these devices will only accumulate over time. Industrial IoT might also reveal key infrastructural weak points that do not have the capacity to handle this increasing demand.
As for consumers, they are less likely to take full advantage of 5G networks in terms of IoT connectivity than municipalities or large industrial operators; however, any emerging IoT risks to network stability would be felt in the consumer segment whenever network infrastructure is impacted.
Privacy and Security
As 5G technology extends the devices’ mobility with IoT technologies, securing data is becoming more vulnerable than ever before. New antennas will allow a much larger number of devices to connect to the same network node, making them more susceptible to attacks. Therefore, good IoT security practices should require unique authentication methods and strict access management on the gateways to mitigate some threats to the network. Protective measures are vital to safeguard the networks’ integrity and mitigate the evolving 5G security-related challenges.
How to Strategically Address Emerging IoT Capabilities
There are several things that can improve our readiness to deal with IoT issues. First and foremost, key internet infrastructure has to be assessed and made ready to handle the bandwidth spikes created by massive IoT botnets. This might require building in more redundancies or simply expanding capacity at key points in the infrastructure.
On the consumer side, more easy-to-use gateway management solutions and protections, such as firewalls, would greatly improve IoT security. Many consumers and businesses do not have a clear and easily accessible way to audit their local networks for unknown or rogue devices. Few can detect new and suspicious connections. These types of network management solutions are usually present on well-managed enterprise networks, and there is no real reason not to provide them to SMBs or the average consumer in 2021.
The bottom line is that the impact of IoT devices on 5G networks will become more prominent in the coming years. These and other challenges show how IoT could hamper the performance of 5G networks, and why both network service operators and their largest clients need to address emerging IoT capabilities strategically.