Written by Nichola Prescott, Associate, London

Ofcom has issued a call for stakeholder input on the emerging Internet of Things.  The Internet of Things describes the inter-connection of multiple “things”, be they devices or sensors, that are able to communicate and share data with one another.  It is set to enable the collection and analysis of data, from many different types of connected devices, in ways that were previously far out of reach.  The predicted growth in the number of interconnected devices is almost 370 million in the UK by 2022 (M2M Application Requirements and Their Implications for Spectrum, April 2014, http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/other/technology-research/2014/M2MSpectrum).

Ofcom highlights the potential benefits across the healthcare, transport and energy sectors in particular, including by way of example: the ability to monitor and manage a patient’s condition remotely rather than in hospital, thus reducing healthcare cost; managing traffic flow by tracking vehicles; and connecting household, office and industrial equipment to enable their use of energy to be monitored and changed accordingly (e.g. to a cheaper tariff).  More generally, the Internet of Things has the ability to enable businesses to collect data from the things most important to it, and to use that data for the benefit of its business.

Ofcom wants to gain a better understanding of the actions needed in order to ensure that the UK takes a leading role in driving the development of the Internet of Things.  It asks for views on a number of matters, including spectrum and network requirements, network security and resilience, data privacy, and the type of address (telephone number or IP) that could be used to allow devices to communicate.  It also recognises the potential for new policy issues that might arise.  Citing its duty (under Article 13a of the European Framework Directive) to ensure that measures are taken to prevent and minimise the impact of security incidents, it is not surprising that many of the policy issues identified are security-focussed.  Some of the potential policy issues are: the vulnerability of devices to cyber threats and malware; the security and privacy of data collected, stored and processed by devices; and the ability of applications to be able to access and utilise “big-data” generated and shared by connected devices.

Submissions are requested by 1 October 2014, following which Ofcom expects to develop a view on next steps during the last quarter of this year.  The call for input was published on 23 July and is available at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/iot/summary/iot-cfi.pdf