Enabling the Internet of Things – the policy angle

July 26, 2021

News & Trends

By Anu Ramani

Anu Ramani is a specialist in international B2B communications.

More articles from Anu Ramani

The Internet of Things (IoT) has dominated the telecommunications industry for the last decade, and recent statistics from Mordor Intelligence estimates that the global IoT market will surpass $1.38 trillion by 2026. Although these projections are slightly lower than previous reports predicted – due to the global impact of COVID-19 – the promise of a truly connected world creeps ever closer.

Taking a look back

A lot has changed in the IoT space over the last five years: when Isoline attended our first GSMA seminar on the regulatory and policy environment to facilitate IoT. The group comprised operators, regulators, app developers, car makers, policymakers and think-tanks – leading to plenty of energetic discussion.

Looking back, some of the issues discussed then are still pertinent now: our three key (and coolest) takeaways included:

1. The functionality creep: new uses for any device with a 5G connection. A connected vehicle will become a ‘sensor on wheels’ – postal vans will transmit air quality metrics, taxis will have route planning and guidance integrated with real-time traffic updates and fleets of lorries will be able to utilise automated roadside assistance, to name just a few examples. It’s important for device manufacturers and designers to not get ‘carried away with their own cleverness’ and incorporate every singing, dancing widget into a single product. Determining the purpose of connectivity and sticking to the plan will make for great connected product that will succeed over the long term.

The connected automotive industry has taken huge strides in delivering IoT enabled cars, and AI has become another key focus for the sector. Tesla, for example, has since rolled out self-driving cars. In this instance, the car is considered the ‘thing’ and then AI or machine learning techniques are used for predictive analytics, such as predicting the behaviour of other cars or pedestrians.

2. New connected traffic paradigms: concepts like highly automatic driving and co-operative driving, were cool then, and they are still cool now. For example, if your car hits a pothole, it will tell my car so I can avoid it. But the list of awesome possibilities just gets longer and longer. Like tele-operated driving, (for example, a paramedic can remotely drive your car to the hospital if you’ve become incapacitated), and see-through cameras (which enable my car to read the feed from your dashboard camera) – all thrilling stuff. But see our point above about functionality creep.

Aerospace company, SAE International, published a new standard in June 2020 which focuses on co-operative driving automation for connected vehicles. The aim of creating this new standard is to provide clarity and support the advancement of fully autonomous vehicles. The ultimate goal is to encourage multiple participants to communicate in order to improve traffic perspectives and overall vehicle and passenger safety.

3. Drones! Lots of connected drone talk back in 2016. Many of these are in the industry today, helping cut costs by monitoring remote sites, keeping workers safe by taking inventory in coal yards, for example, or even inspiring people to go out and explore new parts of the world. A lot of drone use in entertainment – filming specifically, which we didn’t think of as a use case back in the day.

One interesting story from early 2021 stated that tethered drones could solve the problem of temporary high-usage hot spots, which put huge strain on mobile network operator’s fixed-based station networks. Drones can effectively add mobile IoT endpoints to extend a network beyond its physical infrastructure imitations – they are IoT devices in their own right.

However, these use cases come with an abundance of ever-present concerns regarding regulations and policy that must be addressed if we are to realise their full potential:

The initial IoT use cases have drastically evolved from then until now, even amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. However, have the associated concerns been addressed?

  • Security: in 2020, the UK government revealed new IoT security details and plan to lead the rest of the world on IoT security standards. Although it looks as though we – and the rest of the world – are still a way off from implementing any type of global IoT security standard, it’s promising to see governments stepping up and acknowledging the potential security risks associated with a connected world.
  • Data: your device, your data? Apparently, that’s not quite the general consensus when talking about machine generated data. This article explains why – in its most fundamental form and from a legal standpoint – data can only be owned once it’s gathered and processed via a database or platform.
  • Insurance and liability: this is still a bit of a convoluted topic, we’ll revisit it again when there’s a shift in the industry.
  • Cost: 2019 saw a number of car manufacturers, including Volvo, offering roaming data services for all its new cars. With 100GB included as standard, it doesn’t look like we’re quite at the stage where consumers will need to top up their car SIM to roam when driving to France.

The regulator’s role with IoT is to foster competition and protect consumers while helping stimulate market development generally. The way forward is for lightweight standards. A common set of APIs, data platforms and data models for interoperability is essential for a healthy vendor ecosystem.

IoT has come a long way over the last five years, and the technology has seen huge investment during that time. Despite the disruptive impact of COVID-19, many firms plan to increase their IoT investments to reduce costs among other benefits. Moreover, those firms who are investing in IoT are far more likely to invest in AI in conjunction, sparking a win-win for the connected technology space.

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