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The challenge of the Internet of Things

ACCORDING TO THE BLURB, the Westminster eForum provides ‘the premier environment for policymakers in Parliament, Whitehall and regulatory agencies to engage with stakeholders in timely discussion on public policy relating to technology’. To this end, the forum offers numerous seminars on a wide range of topics (www.westminsterforumprojects.co.uk).

On March 15th the subject was the Internet of Things. As it turned out the only parliamentarians present were an MP – Matt Warman and the Earl of Erroll from the House of Lords, who also happened to be chairs of the two sessions. There were a number of representatives from government departments, including a contingent of eight from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, some academics and the rest from the private sector. The event only lasted the morning, but it was a full morning of short talks and question and answer sessions. Rapid growth Emerging technologies always seem to attract large numbers when it comes to predicting the eventual size of the market.

The revenue from IoT is still considered small, at £2bn last year, but market growth the money? Roger Bickerstaff is a partner at Bird & Bird and offered some insight. He drew parallels between the stage of development of the IoT with that of ‘cleantech’ seven to eight years ago. For those of us who have never heard the term cleantech, it refers to the renewable energy industry. Currently, in Britain, the funding for IoT projects comes from corporate equity, whilst in other countries, such as South Korea, there is public sector money involvement. For investors, the issues are security of the revenue stream – cleantech in Britain was boosted by feed-in tariffs, regulatory compulsion and standards. Standards, or lack of them, was a common theme throughout the morning.

In the question and answer session following these talks, the importance of energy harvesting was stressed, and likewise the need to minimise sensor power consumption. There was also concern that government regulation is needed but that it has to be proportionate. Enabling the Smart Home The second batch of talks came under the heading “Enabling IoT: connectivity, infrastructure and utilising commercial networks”. Howard s claimed to be 20 – 30% year on year, reported Tom Rebbeck, research director, Digital Economy at Analysis Mason. He observed that the technology is currently at the stage of solving existing problems more efficiently, thus saving money. Development is being held back by the lack of standards. For example there are four standards for low power wide area networks. Going with the wrong standard could be costly. The challenges Gary Barnett, chief analyst, software at Ovum set out five challenges, or as he termed them – mountains to climb: the things (sensors), communications, security, integration and the fact that the IoT is pointless if it doesn’t provoke action.

Developers have been tending to use silo thinking to focus on the mountain with which they are most familiar, rather than taking a holistic view. He stressed, for example, the importance of embedding security into devices early in the design process, rather than trying to retrofit as an afterthought. No-one, he suggested, wants their oven to be under the control of a hacker. The IoT is being fuelled by dramatically falling prices of sensors, following the patterns that we have seen elsewhere. Barnett said that today there are sensors costing just £1 that can do the same job as a sensor which cost £5,000 a few years ago. Financing So the technology is there – what about the money? Roger Bickerstaff is a partner at Bird & Bird and offered some insight. He drew parallels betweenv the stage of development of the IoT with that of ‘cleantech’ seven to eight years ago. For those of us who have never heard the term cleantech, it refers to the renewable energy industry.

Currently, in Britain, the funding for IoT projects comes from corporate equity, whilst in other countries, such as South Korea, there is public sector money involvement. For investors, the issues are security of the revenue stream – cleantech in Britain was boosted by feed-in tariffs, regulatory compulsion and standards. Standards, or lack of them, was a common theme throughout the morning. In the question and answer session following these talks, the importance of energy harvesting was stressed, and likewise the need to minimise sensor power consumption. There was also concern that government regulation is needed but that it has to be proportionate. Enabling the Smart Home The second batch of talks came under the heading “Enabling IoT: connectivity, infrastructure and utilising commercial networks”. Howard Benn from Samsung R&D pointed out that not only is there a multiplicity of standards, but there’s also a multiplicity of standards bodies! Samsung manufactures white goods and so is focusing on the ‘smart home’. Their solution to the standards problem was to invent a new one via the Open Connectivity Forum, a body with 200 members.

They are currently writing standards for 5G communications. Enabling IoT in cities Paul Wilson is managing director of ‘Bristol is Open’ (www.bristolisopen.com/) – a joint venture between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council. He described how the city is taking a leading role in providing the infrastructure for the IoT, to develop a “super connected city”. He has been fortunate because Bristol was able to purchase existing conduit to install its own fibre within the city, which they have supplemented with a mesh bouncing between lampposts. There are few cities in a similar position of being able to install their own network. Bringing services and sensors together Following a much-needed break, the seminar resumed with sessions on standards. The chairman, the Earl of Erroll, noted that standards help innovators avoid getting locked-in to proprietary systems. Nick Chrissos, head of innovation technology at Cisco UK and Ireland is working on bringing sensors and services together. One example was flood prediction, where Cisco is working with the challenge of the Internet of Things GiS Pro takes a look at a hot button topic which is predicted to be disruptive rather than evolutionary. Backed by corporate equity the IoT is held back by standards but developers are urged to think holistically.

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