Here’s How Net Neutrality & Wearable Devices Can Impact 5G

This article originally appeared on Security Boulevard by Mike O’Malley.

AT&T and Verizon are committed to an aggressive, multi-city roll out plan in a race to be the first carrier to implement national 5G deployment. We see this competition play out almost daily in the news: AT&T’s “5G E” is slower than Verizon 4G,  Verizon declares 5G war on AT&T, Verizon inks a deal with the NFL to bring 5G to stadiums, and so forth. And yet, despite this newsworthy competition between telecom giants, we still have a limited understanding of the benefits and risks of 5G.

There are the obvious benefits – faster service, for one – and risks, like insufficient security infrastructure. But what about other, less considered factors that can impact 5G (both positively and negatively), such as net neutrality and wearable devices? How do they play into the risks and rewards of this communications (r)evolution?

Net Neutrality

Currently, net neutrality in the U.S. is embroiled
in partisan politics and it’s unclear whether these regulations will be
reinstated. But operating under the current status, in which net neutrality
rules are suspended, service providers stand to profit from 5G.

As we’ve previously discussed, 5G allows for service providers to “slice” portions of a spectrum as a customizable service for specific types of devices and different customer segments—and without net neutrality, carriers can conceivably charge premium rates for higher quality of service. In other words, service providers could profit by charging select industries that require large
bandwidth and low latency – like healthcare and manufacturing, for example –
higher premiums.

This premium service/premium revenue model represents a significant
ROI for carriers on their 5G infrastructure investment. Not only does slicing provide flexibility for multi-service deployment, it enables the realization of diverse applications on that physical resource, which helps recoup cost for the capital investment.

However, because implementation will be patchy, with initial focus on high-density, urban areas (versus rural populations), the so-called digital divide may very well deepen, not just for consumers but for rural industries like healthcare and agriculture as well.

Wearable Devices

IoT devices have outpaced the human population for the first time in history. And 5G will undoubtedly  fan the flames of interest in wearable devices, due to its projected speed and availability of data.

While these devices can certainly make life easier, and even potentially healthier (think about the ECG app on the Apple Watch!), they also carry enormous risk. Why? Because they’re hackable – and they contain a treasure trove of sensitive data, like your location, health stats, and more. And the risk doesn’t only impact the individual wearing an IoT device; enterprises are likewise at risk when their employees wear devices at work and transmit data over office WiFi.    

What’s Next?

With the ever-changing nature of internet regulations and the explosion of wearable devices, security must be top-of-mind for service providers. Not only is security advantageous to end users, but for the carriers as well; best-of-breed security opens the possibility for capturing new revenue streams.

No matter the complexity of securing 5G networks, there are solutions. For example, service providers should consider differentiated security mechanisms, offering security as a service to vertical industries, and segregating virtual network slices to safeguard their networks. And of course, let the (security) experts help the (carrier) experts.