UK telecoms regulator issues call for input on Internet of Things

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By Tim Wright

Ofcom has published a call for input, entitled "Promoting investment and innovation in the Internet of Things", regarding issues that might affect the development of the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) sector in the United Kingdom. Ofcom is the UK's independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industry. It regulates the TV and radio sectors, fixed line telecoms, mobile devices, postal services, plus the airwaves over which wireless devices operate. It operates under a number of Acts of Parliament, in particular the Communications Act 2003.

IoT (which is also referred to as Cloud of Things or CoT) describes the interconnection of multiple machine to machine (M2M) applications and covers a variety of protocols, domains and applications (see J. Höller, V. Tsiatsis, C. Mulligan, S. Kamouskos, S. Avesand, D. Boyle: From Machine-to-Machine to the Internet of Things: Introduction to a New Age of Intelligence. Elsevier, 2014). These technologies and methodologies underpin smart applications and embedded devices that enable the exchange of data across multiple industry sectors, such as heart monitoring implants, factory automation sensors, industrial robotics applications, automotive sensors and biochip transponders. A 2013 report by Gartner suggested that by 2020 there will be nearly 26 billion connected IoT devices.

Ofcom sees potential benefits across a range of sectors including healthcare, transport and energy, and wants to gain a better understanding of the role that it should play to ensure that the UK takes a leading role in the emergence of IoT. Given that the availability of radio spectrum will be an important issue in the development of IoT, Ofcom looks certain to have a key part to play. Ofcom's view is that, generally speaking, "industry is best placed to drive the development, standardisation and commercialisation of new technology" but, given the significant commercial benefits expected to flow from development of IoT, Ofcom is interested to learn whether it "should be more proactive; for example, in identifying and making available key frequency bands, or in helping to drive technical standards".

Input is invited by 1 October 2014.  Ofcom expects to develop a view on next steps during the last quarter of 2014. Apart from helping to define Ofcom's role, Ofcom also seeks specific inputs on:

Ø  radio spectrum requirements, such as the scale and nature of demand, suitable frequency bands and the suitability of a licensed or licensed exempt approach;

Ø  policy issues, such as network resilience and security, data privacy and the protection of commercially sensitive data; and

Ø  the need for address types, such as Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, to identify connected devices.