“There are already over 40 million devices connected via the Internet of Things in the United Kingdom alone. This is forecast to grow more than eight-fold by 2022, with hundreds of millions of devices carrying out more than a billion daily data transactions.”[1]

It comes as no surprise therefore, that Ofcom (the UK’s telecoms regulator)  released a publication, entitled ‘Promoting Investment and Innovation in the Internet of Things’, discussing the future of the Internet of Things (IoT) and setting out the key areas that require development to ensure that they can keep up with the exponential growth that is occurring within the industry.

Over the past decade, we have begun to see the IoT appear in industries across the spectrum, ranging from healthcare to transport and from energy to agriculture. It is clear to see that these services will, and already are providing huge benefits on an international level. Mimo have developed an infant monitor that sends parents real-time information on their baby’s breathing, skin temperature, sleeping position, and activity level straight to their smartphones[2], whilst equipment has been created to maintain and control humidity and temperature levels in alfalfa, hay and straw to prevent fungus and other microbial contaminants from contaminating them[3]. The IoT is set to break communication barriers and connect devices that have previously been unable to connect with one another which has got the world talking about the endless possibilities that will become available. IHS Automative recently released a statement in which they predicted that the number of cars connected to the Internet worldwide will grow more than six fold to 152 million in 2020 from 23 million in 2013.[4] These advances have brought the IoT to the forefront of the telecoms industry due to the realisation that there are huge benefits to be made to both inhabitants and consumers.

However, as with all technological growth and product development, it has become apparent that telecoms regulations need to be in place that are able to manage this growth in a safe and effective manner. Ofcom have identified four main areas that present problems for the IoT and have outlined their methods to combat these problems. These areas are 1. Data privacy and consumer literacy, 2. Network security and resilience, 3. Availability of spectrum for IoT networks and 4. Telephone number and address management.

1.Data Privacy and Consumer Literacy

Perhaps the biggest problem that development of the IoT brings is the protection of individual’s personal information. The future of the IoT is most likely to come from new services that are based on analysis from varying different sources; some which will contain personal or commercially sensitive data. For example, as car manufacturers develop smartphone applications which can be made publically available, individuals need to remain certain that their information will not be at risk from external parties. In order to preserve trust from the public (the users), there needs to be a system whereby users remain comfortable providing their personal data for IoT applications.

There is existing legislation to cover this in the form of the Data Protection Act 1998, and related legislation. It has, however, been recognised that this approach to data privacy may soon become outdated when run in conjunction with the new services arising out of the IoT. As a result, Ofcom have pledged to work with organisations on both a national and international level to help facilitate and explore solutions to data privacy issues that the IoT may present.

2. Network Security and Resilience

As the IoT reaches more and more individuals and begins to play a larger part in their lives, safe and reliable networks – along with data protection – will become a top priority. At present Ofcom have simply noted the issue and declared, ‘we believe that our existing overall approach of encouraging providers to consider security and resilience in line with established standards and best practice will remain the correct one in the IoT domain’.[5] The importance of this issue has been highlighted recently by the Computer Business Review which predicted that by 2017, 90% of all IT networks will have suffered an IoT-based security breach, leading Chief Information Security Officers to adopt new IoT policies.[6] Ofcom have recognised the need to be more active in this field and have undertaken to consider solutions to gaps in ‘existing approaches’, as and when they are identified.

3. Availability of Spectrum for IoT networks 

Many of the IoT devices and services will operate over a wireless network. It is therefore essential that there is spectrum availability. At present Ofcom do not see this as a barrier to the IoT and are confident that the 870/915MHz bands that they have made available will be able to deal with the low data rates that are typical of the majority of the emerging  IoT applications. However it is the long term spectrum availability that is uncertain, as IoT devices evolve to transmit files containing larger data, for example video based services. Ofcom will, then, continue to monitor the increased demands for spectrum and is looking at various proposals, including allocating spectrum at 700MHz for IoT services.

4. Telephone Number and Address Management

After conducting research with stakeholders, Ofcom have concluded that this will not be a barrier to the development of the IoT. IoT services are most likely to use bespoke addressing systems that are able to generate billions of addresses. The much more scalable version of Internet Protocol, known as IPv6 is currently in the process of being adopted this will offer a massively increased range of addresses.

Developments are occurring on a daily basis and it is an exciting time to be part of this industry. In order to ensure that this decade sees the growth that has been predicted, Ofcom must concentrate on developing data privacy regulation and controlling network security. A failure to find solutions  could result in detrimental consequences for both consumers and retailers and will not allow the IoT to fulfil its anticipated potential.