Ofcom lays out strategy for Internet of Things

27 January 2015   By Jonathan Keane

OFCOM have announced plans to put the UK at the forefront of the "Internet of Things" (IoT), as the industry is expected to reach 50 billion connected devices worldwide by 2020.

ofcom mobile phone
Source: Ofcom

There are already more than 40 million devices in the UK connected via the IoT, and the regulator predicts there'll be more than 320 million such devices in the UK by 2022.

The regulator's report, Promoting investment and innovation in the Internet of Things [pdf], focuses on four main areas for development - spectrum availability, network security, data privacy, and network addressing.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things refers to connecting more and more devices to the internet to run efficiently and generate data.

Those devices range from the personal - from wearable health monitors to smart electricity meters to intelligent household appliances - to the public and industrial, from cars and traffic management to energy grids and agriculture.

These four areas - healthcare, transport, energy, and agriculture - are identified as key areas for IoT development, with Ofcom aiming to create a strong environment for investment and innovation.

"The Internet of Things will bring benefits to a range of sectors and could change the way we live our lives," said Steve Ungor, Ofcom's acting chief executive.

He says Ofcom "want to develop a framework for this technology to evolve in a way which will ultimately benefit citizens and consumers."

Spectrum demands

The IoT industry is already growing in the UK, according to the report, with a number of industries and investors seeing the potential of the Internet of Things and fuelling its growth.

Ofcom says that short- to medium-term spectrum demands are currently being met, but as the sector grows there'll need to be continuous monitoring to ensure there's enough spectrum - and phone numbers.

Deloitte, in its report on technology trends for 2015, said that business will account for 60% of the one billion global devices connected through the IoT this year.

Data privacy

There are privacy concerns associated with the IoT, in part because of the generation of more user data than ever from the billions of new devices.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chair Edith Ramirez voiced her concerns about the issue during this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and Ofcom echoes some of those worries, saying users' privacy is a "key part" of the plan.

What Ofcom intends is that IoT devices and their data will be protected by the UK Data Protection Act 1998 - but there's also the possibility for additional legal requirements.

Ofcom say they'll consult the Government, the Information Commissioner's Office, Government, and the industry at large for guidance on data privacy in the future.

Network security & addressing

It's thought the IoT is more likely to put a greater strain on network security and resilience. Ofcom say they'll investigate current activity on networks in order to best prepare for the Internet of Things.

Meanwhile, they state that network addressing will come from bespoke addressing systems based on IPv6, the latest version of Internet Protocol.

Much like the issues surrounding spectrum availability, Ofcom say they'll monitor this continuously as the IoT develops to see what needs to be changed or updated.

Case studies

Alongside the report, Ofcom has produced a number of case studies highlighting how the Internet of Things can be effectively implemented in the UK, including the "smart farm."

Based on the idea that the growing population is placing a greater demand on agriculture and farming operations need to run more smoothly and efficiently, the case study shows how the farm can use smart machine to machine (M2M) sensors to monitor and efficiently distribute resources like feed, water, pesticides and energy.

This is just one of several case studies looking at the areas mentioned earlier - energy, healthcare, traffic management and agriculture - put together to show the benefit of the Internet of Things and how to make use of it in strategies for the future.

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