Smart Cities

Are Smart Homes Ready for the Spike in Remote Work?

Rodney Elder

Remote work has been in the spotlight in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic sending many employees home, but telecommuting has been a trend for decades. Global Workplace Analytics found that regular work-at-home grew 173% from 2005 to 2018, 11% faster than the rest of the workforce.[i] There are several drivers for this including improved technologies for online collaboration, cost savings, sustainability, increased productivity, employee preference for more flexible work models and more

Smart cities + smart homes = the future of work?  

As telecommuting accelerates, what does that mean for the at-home workspace? The basic premise of a smart city is that it harnesses intelligence from data and communication technologies to provide better services and quality of life for its citizens. Smart homes aspire to similar goals but on a much smaller scale – where the “citizens” are the homeowners and the “city” is the home. Most homes, even if they are smart, are not intelligently connected to their cities, but imagine if they were. Scenarios like these would be possible:

  • Alexa notices that you are in back-to-back meetings today and asks if you would like to schedule an Uber Eats from your favorite restaurant for this evening – you just need to confirm whether to have it delivered to your office or home.
  • When you wake up, Google Assistant notifies you that the local air quality is bad, so you may want to work from home today. If you decide to do that, it automatically reschedules all your in-person meetings to Zoom meetings for the day

Challenges with this futuristic vision of work

Obstacles still remain for the vision described above. Most devices are highly integrated with the manufacturer’s cloud-based platform, leading to issues with interoperability and vendor lock-in, as well as lifecycle support. What value does a smart home device have if its cloud service is discontinued? In many cases, none and several have already fallen by the wayside.

Data privacy is also a major challenge. Many users are apprehensive about the improper use of data by device manufacturers. A survey by Investor’s Business Daily of 902 U.S. adults found that 70% of respondents were concerned about their privacy with smart speakers, whether they currently owned one or not.[ii] And, an IoT data privacy study conducted by Northeastern University and Imperial College London found that nearly 90% of the 81 devices they studied shared data with third parties completely unrelated to the original manufacturer. Moreover, the data shared was extensive and unsecured – 37% of the devices shared it as an unencrypted plaintext file.[iii]

 

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In an IoT data privacy study, 90% of 81 devices studied shared data with 3rd parties and 37% shared it as an unecrypted plaintext file.

How the industry is addressing these challenges

One obvious way to address many of these challenges is by untethering the device from its cloud platform. Increasingly smart devices can operate in stand-alone mode with just enough artificial intelligence (AI) to handle specific workloads. A smart thermostat does not need to have Alexa’s entire vocabulary to change the temperature in a home. AI-enabled microcontroller units (MCUs) and tiny machine learning (Tiny ML) for the edge are enabling on-device AI workloads such as object recognition, voice-enabled services and natural language processing. Some of these devices may also let users decide if they want to connect to the cloud for additional features and functions or not.

New standards and solutions for wireless connectivity are also opening the door to enhanced security for internet of things (IoT) devices in a number of ways including:

  • Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is a spectrum recently designated for shared wireless broadband use that does not require a license. That makes it easy for organizations to build their own private 4G/5G networks. A consortium of companies have also developed a set of CBRS standards to certify device interoperability and security.
  • Wi-Fi 6 enables Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) certification, which includes more robust encryption and enhanced key management than WPA2 for improved data protection.
  • 5G network slicing enables operators to create multiple virtual networks on top of a single common physical infrastructure. Each slice is a separate, private end-to-end network that can be customized to address different use cases and security mechanisms.
New standards and solutions for wireless connectivity such as CBRS, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G network slicing are opening the door to enhanced security for internet of things (IoT) devices.

Deploying smart and secure cities and homes

For an intelligently connected smart city/office/home vision to become a reality, secure data exchange needs to happen between multiple sources and players – users, devices, manufacturers, municipalities, clouds, application owners and more. Delivering a seamless experience will require a distributed IT architecture where data can be securely exchanged and processed at the digital edge with governance models that address data privacy concerns.

Vendor-neutral private interconnection solutions like those on Platform Equinix® can help ensure that any data and insights shared between multiple entities are exchanged safely and securely over high-speed, low-latency connections. Deploying multi-access compute (MEC) aggregation points on private interconnection hubs on Platform Equinix provides greater 4G/5G network security by keeping data and workload traffic private between users, systems, networks and clouds.

For an intelligently connected smart city/office/home vision to become a reality, secure data exchange needs to happen between multiple sources and players .

Network service providers looking to implement 5G infrastructures can also benefit from Equinix’s best-in-class data center expertise and investment in 5G and IoT innovation. For example, we recently launched a 5G proof-of-concept center at DA11 to enable organizations to test out 5G and edge capabilities. We are also collaborating with technology partners such as Nokia to build 5G IoT infrastructures and enable new microservices-based networks.[iv] And we are working with technology communities and industry consortiums that are focused on establishing standards and frameworks in this space such as Linux Foundation Edge (LF Edge) and 5GAA.

Learn more about staying agile for the future of work and 5G.

You may also be interested in reading our previous 5G blog posts.

 

[i] Global Workplace Analytics, Latest Work-At-Home/Telecommuting/Mobile Work/Remote Work Statistics.

[ii] Investor’s Business Daily, Consumers Worried Smart Speakers Spying On Them, But Ignore The Risk, April 2019.

[iii] CPO Magazine, Smart Devices Leaking Data To Tech Giants Raises New IoT Privacy Issues, Oct 2019.

[iv] Japan News, Equinix Japan Co., Ltd. Equinix and Nokia collaborate in building IoT infrastructure in Japan, Dec 2019; ZDNet, Nokia aims for the data center with new switches, gear, July 2020.