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Feds prep RF rules for 5G, IoT

The FCC is overhauling RF rules for first time since 1998

WASHINGTON – The federal government is adapting policies to change with the times. Among those polices being updated are those designed to benefit the “Internet of Things” economy. Over the next decade, IoT is expected to be a stable of every sector of the U.S. economy from defense to agriculture, with IoT systems woven into the fabric of American’s everyday lives. This IoT world will require more wireless broadband, a new breed of devices and more powerful security measures.

The government has recently moved to open up more wireless spectrum through the 600 MHz auction. With numerous other bills being floated in Congress to make wireless broadband infrastructure as commonplace in the U.S. as running water, a White House panel has recently given it more weight by declaring broadband a core utility as indispensable as electricity.

In addition to connecting more people, Congress is looking to revise the metrics used by the Federal Communications Commission to judge the scope of connectivity. In a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, questions touched on if, in the age of IoT, the number of connected people is still a good yardstick to measure how widespread America’s telecom infrastructure is.

In an effort to help speed up the process whereby IoT systems can gain regulatory approval, the FCC is looking to unveil the first comprehensive reform of its rules governing the approval of radio frequency devices since 1998. RF rules are used to prevent devices that use RF from interfering with each other. The recent proliferation of RF IoT devices has led the commission to try to streamline and simplify the approval process for new devices that use RF.

According to the FCC, this reform is important because, “The telecommunications sector depends on the variety and utility of radio frequency devices. Such devices promote innovation, promote economic growth and can facilitate modern life.”

The FCC efforts have received support from telecom trade association CTIA. The group said it “agrees with the commission that streamlining the equipment authorization process to improve efficiencies will be critical to the advancement of new and exciting technologies, including the ‘Internet of Things’ … and 5G services.”

The new RF rules would also make it easier to approve new small cell and other “5G” systems like satellites. Some estimates predict that by 2020, IoT could consist of trillions of systems and be worth $1.9 trillion.

The widespread use of these IoT platforms, and their integration into so many aspects of daily life, has led to new security and privacy concerns, largely in the context of device encryption. Several companies, such as Apple and Google, want to encrypt user data while federal agencies insist they put in a back door so law enforcement can access that information. Those same back doors could be accessed by criminals leaving users exposed. The Obama administration recently said it will not insist on back doors being built into devices.

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