In the coming year, Ireland will take steps towards unlocking the potential of the internet of things and the green economy. A number of developments in 2016 set some groundwork for these initiatives. We examine these developments and their likely impact on telecoms and energy players in 2017 and beyond.
First came smartphones. We were hooked. Then came a vision of smart meters, smart homes, smart cities, intelligent utilities, ubiquitous broadband and 5G, Netflix anytime anywhere, driverless electric and compressed natural gas cars, remote working and virtual currencies. A gigabit society - a glimpse of a new super-connected and greener digital world.
Irish and EU governments have set their sights on delivering this vision by 2020 and beyond. In 2017, we will continue to see important early steps being taken at an Irish industry, policy and legislative level to pave the way for these exciting future developments. The question is certainly no longer if, but when, an Irish smart green economy will be realised.
Amongst many industry sectors, the Irish telecoms and energy industries will be the forerunners and will continue to adapt to technological innovation and changing consumer behaviours in 2017. The nature of the internet of things and growing consumer demand for always-on services is such that conventional telecoms and energy companies are seeing increasing overlaps in their areas of activity. This trend is likely to continue in 2017. Over time, the legislative framework governing these industries will follow suit. Each industry will be faced with significant Irish policy, regulatory and legislative changes in the coming years - with early measures being felt in 2017.
A number of developments in 2016 will have important implications for telecoms and energy players in 2017 and onwards:
- In December 2016, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment launched the Report of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce.
The Report is intended to identify immediate solutions to Irish broadband/mobile phone coverage deficits prior to implementation of the National Broadband Plan. It identifies short-term actions in areas such as identification and remediation of mobile phone blackspots, telecoms network planning, consumer availability of coverage information, the appointment of broadband officers across local authorities, changes to planning legislation and the enactment of legislation in respect of broadband-ready housing and developments.
On the Report's launch, the Minister signalled ambitious plans for Ireland to lead the race on 5G deployment by 2020, including by means of future ComReg spectrum auctions. 5G, the successor to current 3G and 4G mobile technology, is key to realising the potential of the internet of things, smart homes, driverless cars and mobile video consumption.
Themes and actions from the December Report were reiterated in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs' Action Plan for Rural Development "Realising our Rural Potential" published on 23 January 2016.
- In September 2016, the European Commission published a suite of Digital Single Market initiatives including a Draft European Electronic Communications Code and 5G Action Plan.
Described as a new rule book for providers of internet access and communication services, the European Electronic Communications Code will replace the existing EU and Irish telecoms legal framework and introduce regulatory changes in areas such as network investment, spectrum management, consumer protection and the regulation of non-conventional "over the top" telecoms platforms such as Skype-type applications. While implementation of the new Code is likely two or more years away, the measures signal a clear focus by EU legislators on reshaping the European telecoms legal framework.
- In November 2016, the European Commission published its "Clean Energy for all Europeans" package.
This energy flagship initiate goes hand in hand with the telecoms Digital Single Market strategy. It will introduce a series of changes to existing energy legislation which will facilitate energy innovation and digitalisation as part of the move to smart homes and the green economy. Planned measures include allowing consumers to actively manage their energy consumption and to generate, store, share and sell their own energy over time (facilitated by internet connectivity). The horizon for Irish implementation of the changes is some years away but important groundwork is underway at EU level.
- In November 2016, the deadline for Irish transposition of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive passed.
Aimed at promoting take-up of renewable clean transport fuels such as electricity and compressed natural gas, Ireland has taken preliminary steps to implement the Directive by consulting in late 2016 on a Draft National Policy Framework on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure. The draft framework includes proposed targets for the development of a national recharging network for electric vehicles and refuelling infrastructure for natural gas vehicles. We should expect Irish legislation in this area in 2017.
- In July 2016, the EU Network and Information Security Directive was published.
With connected smart utilities come inherent cyber security risks. There have been a number of high-profile cyber-attacks on critical national utility networks. Daily attempted cyber-attacks on Ireland's gas network system were reported in 2016.
The Directive includes measures to ensure that critical national utility networks (eg electricity, gas, water, oil and transport) are safeguarded from cyber-attacks. This includes a requirement that appropriate and proportionate technical and organisational measures are taken to manage the risks posed to the security of those networks and the information systems which they use. One of the first Irish measures to implement the Directive's proposals reported in 2016 involves the establishment of the National Cyber-Security Centre within the remit of the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment. We should expect further activity in this area in 2017.
Market uncertainties arising from Trumpism and Brexit aside, the global race to unlock the potential of the internet of things and the green economy is on. As home to thriving innovative technology, telecoms and energy sectors, Ireland will play its part. In 2017, we will see significant further early Irish steps being taken across the telecoms and energy sectors to set important groundwork for future developments in these areas.