Internet of Things: Ofcom Next Steps

January 30, 2015

On 27 January, Ofcom published ‘Promoting investment and innovation in the Internet of Things: Summary of responses and next steps‘.

Ofcom states that it has identified several priority areas to help support the growth of the IoT. Following feedback from stakeholders in 2014, these areas include spectrum availability, data privacy, network security and resilience, and network addresses.

Ofcom declares an intention to explore how it can support and work with government, the ICO, other regulators and industry to facilitate progress on these issues at both a national and international level. Ofcom wants to create a regulatory environment which fosters investment and innovation in the IoT, which is likely to see billions of smart gadgets and devices wirelessly connected to the internet and each other.

As Ofcom observes, 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.

Key areas of work

Ofcom wants to help create the right environment for investment and innovation in this sector and has identified several priority work areas following input from stakeholders in 2014:

  • Spectrum availability: many IoT devices will communicate wirelessly, making the availability of spectrum – the raw material that underpins wireless services – an important factor. Ofcom’s analysis has shown much of the IoT’s short to medium-term spectrum demands are met with current initiatives. However, Ofcom will continue to monitor the IoT’s spectrum needs to help identify when additional spectrum may be needed.
  • Data privacy: protection of individuals’ personal information is a key part of the development of the IoT and will be covered under existing legislation, such as the Data Protection Act 1998. However, traditional approaches to data privacy may have limitations in the context of the IoT. Ofcom will work with the ICO, government, other regulators and industry to explore solutions to data privacy issues in the IoT.
  • Network security and resilience: as the IoT plays a larger part in people’s daily lives, secure and reliable networks and data storage will become increasingly important. With this in mind, Ofcom aims to investigate how its existing activities on security and resilience of the UK’s communications networks can include the IoT.
  • Network addressing: IoT services will likely use bespoke addressing systems or addresses based on the internet standard known as IPv6, the latest version of the Internet Protocol which is able to support connections between a significantly greater number of devices. To support this, Ofcom will continue to monitor the progress already being made by internet service providers in supporting IPv6 connectivity.

Planning for the future

It is expected that globally up to 50 billion ‘smart’ devices, ranging from cars and parking meters to coffee machines and combine harvesters could be connected to the internet by 2020, each using tiny slivers of spectrum to get online.

Ofcom’s plan is to ensure the UK has the tools and infrastructure to allow the IoT to develop unhindered. To support this, Ofcom has already released spectrum for machine to machine uses – making the UK among the first countries in Europe to do so. Ofcom last year made spectrum available in the 870/915 MHz bands and liberalised licence conditions for existing mobile bands. Ofcom also noted some IoT devices could make use of the spectrum at 2.4 and 5 GHz, which is used by a range of services including Wi-Fi. However, as the IoT sector develops there may be a need for additional spectrum in the longer term, in particular below 1 GHz. Given this, Ofcom will continue to monitor IoT spectrum utilisation, in particular in licence exempt bands, to help identify when additional spectrum may be needed.

The full statement can be downloaded from the panel opposite.