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Internet of Things: Governments start to take a closer look

Ofcom and the FTC are the latest government agencies to start work on their strategies for, and responses to, the IoT.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom has set out its plan "to support the IoT" which it says is "is an emerging sector which is likely to see billions of smart gadgets and devices wirelessly connected to the internet and each other".

Ofcom 's acting chief executive, Steve Unger, can certainly see the opportunities of the IoT.

"The Internet of Things will bring benefits to a range of sectors and could change the way we live our lives," he said. He added that Ofcom wants to develop a framework for this technology so it can evolve in a way which benefits consumers.

There are four key areas that Ofcom believes need to be addressed:

  1. Spectrum availability: Many IoT devices will communicate wirelessly, making the availability of spectrum an important factor, Ofcom said. Its own analysis has shown that while "the IoT's short to medium-term spectrum demands are met" it still needs to monitor the spectrum so that it can see when extra capacity is needed.
  2. Data privacy: The protection of personal information "is a key part of the development of the IoT," Ofcom believes. But it said it knows "that traditional approaches to data privacy may have limitations in the context of the IoT". Ofcom said it will work with the Information Commissioner's Office and others on the issue.
  3. Network security and resilience: Secure and reliable networks and data storage will become increasingly important as the IoT develops. The regulator said it will investigate "how its existing activities on security and resilience of the UK's communications networks can include the IoT".
  4. Network addressing: IoT services will likely use bespoke addressing systems based on IPv6, Ofcom said. To support this, Ofcom said it will "continue to monitor the progress already being made by internet service providers in supporting IPv6".

Ofcom believes there are already "over 40 million devices connected via the IoT in the UK 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.

To illustrate the diversity of the IoT, Ofcom described how it could be used in an application to ensure that fertilizer, fodder, and water are distributed across a farm "in the right quantities, in the right places, and at the right time". This is as good a way as any of demonstrating that the IoT is much more than just gadgets.

Ofcom is not alone in waking up to the issues around IoT devices. In the US, FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez on Tuesday announced new guidelines aimed at promoting "best practices" for the IoT along with her intention to "crack down on violations of privacy or deceptive consumer practices".

Not only is deeply personal information at stake, she said, "but as you have more and more devices it means there is more potential for exposure".

Speaking at the State of the Net conference in Washington, she said: "If you want these new technologies to flourish, you want to make sure consumers understand what is happening, understand what is being collected, with whom that information is being shared, how this information is being used."

Ramirez underscored the privacy concerns, saying, "If I'm wearing a fitness band that tracks how many calories I consume, I wouldn't want to share that data with an insurance company."

Read more:

Internet of Things: A security threat to business by the backdoor?

FTC suggests Internet of Things 'best practices' to businesses

New IoT research facility opens in Singapore

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