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How Wi-Fi 6 and 5G Will Massively Change Personal Computing

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I was at a Qualcomm event last week week and they walked me through not only the changes that we will see with the initial rollout of the technology but the impact of Millimeter-wave and the future updates to 5G, which will significantly expand its scope away from phones and towards connecting everything wirelessly, even our pets and children who don’t have phones.

These advancements will, in turn, drive some massive changes in how we do things that I don’t think many have thought through because if you can get wireless performance that rivals wired performance, it will eliminate a lot of the limitations that currently define our companies. And, I expect, a whole new bunch of threats will emerge.

Let’s talk both about the coming advantages and risks associated with the coming wireless world.

Living Wirelessly

Our current digital world is defined by the limitations that existed before 5G, Millimeter-wave and Wi-Fi 6. In that world wired networking is king, our networks are contained mostly on our sites.

This legacy limitation means we still have a lot of wired networks to maintain, high connectivity exposures to natural disasters which can damage or destroy the wiring, expenses associated with installing and maintaining that wiring, and security over that infrastructure that is largely physical preventing people from damaging or plugging into that wiring illicitly.

With these advancements the need to wire within and outside a home or business is largely eliminated outside of extreme data rates. Millimeter-wave makes satellite wireless delivery more viable and broadcasting a signal wirelessly to rural areas more cost-effective and safer. Increased loading on these new wireless technologies would allow hospitals, hotels, and office buildings to go fully wireless and you’ll even be able to tailor the wireless coverage field so that it doesn’t extend outside the building limiting exposure.

Because this will eliminate many of the existing points of failure, the result should not only be better bandwidth and availability but lowered cost of installation and ownership for the devices. There is a better than reasonable chance that connected devices can be pre-configured so that all you need to do is plug them in to get them to function and given they will increasingly connect to a cloud service, lower-cost services offered with that service could do much of what IT now does to identify and correct problems and security threats.

Given the performance will pull to the cloud with offerings like the Windows Virtual Desktop, the requirements surrounding PCs will change, and we’ll likely start using our Smartphones more instead as they become the equivalent of terminals or thin clients. But this will mean we will need to rethink those because they lack the ports and physical security for that role at the moment.

This wireless proliferation will enable a new class of trackers so you can better keep track of your child and pets across large distances and better assure their safety during catastrophes like weather events, school shootings, or accidents. Also, wireless devices will increasingly be able to use the RF field around them to see negating the need for security cameras and traditional occupancy sensors lowering cost and potentially better-protecting privacy in secured areas.

New Risks

One of the least talked about security defenses we have is that much of our infrastructure is old, isolated, and if it is networked that network is generally isolated from the world at large. Going wireless will force a lot of currently disconnected proprietary solutions to conform to wireless standards, and that will open exposures to that equipment that do not now exist. The folks that make this stuff have only had to be concerned about physical security up to this point and currently lack the skills needed to defend against cyber-attack. Security is only as strong as the weakest exposed link this newly networked hardware could open the enterprise to new attacks unless this risk is identified and mitigated during the implementation.

Central Hubs will be caring much of the load for their region and become vastly more attractive targets as a result. You could have a solid security solution deployed, but if your carrier is compromised, it will fail. And given the wireless devices will increasingly hub there, breaching one of these sites would result in massive rewards. We have State level players looking to gain that access, and there are no companies that I know of that have a solid enough defense to protect against an attack by major government. Those central cloud facilities will need to be hardened against this threat but, typically, this would only be done post-breach. Given a breach under this scenario would be damaging at a State or Country level that should be revisited.

AS noted, the technology will enable high definition video streaming at scale, low-cost WAN trackers that work over large geographical areas, and the proliferation of wireless devices that can see you without cameras. This exposure also means that someone wanting to harm could slip a tracker onto that person and wait until they were isolated to attack them. It means that hidden cameras become more effective reducing privacy and increasing the chance that videos of you or your kids that are unauthorized make it to the web. And finally, were the RF sensor capability turned on remotely without authorization it could provide to the attacker information about where you are and how many people are in your home or company that could lead to theft. This exposure could allow someone to digitally case your home or business and avoid the risk of being caught in the act or increase the chance that a lone resident would be attacked.

Wrapping Up

The coming wireless world is compelling, but with it comes a lot of risks that we currently don’t have on our minds. Both are arriving with or without us, so I’m suggesting we start thinking about the coming risks and start working on mitigating them before people are hurt rather than the more typical late response. There are a number of interesting business opportunities like more secure wireless network providers, devices that will alert if there is a sending wireless device near or on you, and services that will alert if someone is attempting to compromise and redirect your wireless gear or cameras.

When wireless phones pivoted to the iPhone design, a lot of us felt strongly that the increased attention would increase car accidents and death particularly with young adults that have known poor impulse control. But we didn’t work to mitigate that problem until a lot of them had already died as a result. I’m just suggesting that this time, we might want to get ahead of that curve.

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