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Plenary Panel

Wireless LANs and Domotics

The arrival of broadband wireless networks in the form of wireless LANs or home systems, also known as domotics, may be posing one of the most significant challenges in terms of interoperability, maintenance, operations and security. Most of the technologies under discussion are mature or well understood. Many of the proposed solutions include or combine designs already implemented in commercial buildings or in large scale unattended applications such as vending machines, car dashboards, heating control systems, etc. However, wireless technology has some serious technical shortcomings, like poor security and vulnerability to interference. In addition, the long-term health effects of non-ionizing radiation is till not very well understood.

From a strictly business view point, extension of the concept of smart homes beyond the initial adopters provides a strong opportunity for growth. However, the deployment of home networks will put non-trained users in the control of network elements connected to public networks. Home networks will likely be more vulnerable to attacks through the Internet than businesses. Owners will have less access to expert knowledge. Furthermore, an automated meter reading device may be reprogrammed to monitor network traffic, determine daily activities or detect what devices are available. Personal data can be tracked and collected; this invisible surveillance is already available in several commercial products, such as Pentium III chips, Windows 98 operating system, Real Jukebox music software program, etc. Yet, mechanisms deployed in business networks to reduce the chance of tracking and identifying individual equipment are costly and hard to configure. This makes them unsuitable in the home environment.

The success of i-mode from NTT DoCoMo should remind us that what counts for the general public are ease of use and convenience and not only technological prowess. Does this imply that there should be a basic standard design for home networks or Internet appliances, particularly on aspects related to traffic engineering and the configuration of gateways? Is there a need for standard checklist for assessing security and evaluating risks? Should there be a standard certification procedure for intelligent appliances similar to the procedures used to test for radiation and safety? These are some of the questions that the panel should attempt to answer.