At the beginning of the year, information and communication (ICT) analysts from around the world released their technology predictions for 2016 – ITU included. Many analysts forecast that technology will become more immersive and interactive over the coming year, with developments in virtual reality and the continued progress of ‘smart’ homes and cities typifying the first phases of the Internet of Thing (IoT) era. This year in particular, there has been a lot of discussion on how ICTs are increasingly recognized as the foundation upon which the pillars of economic and social development continue to grow, meaning that regulators and policy makers have an even greater role to play in building policy and regulatory frameworks in which new technologies can flourish.
Analysts are projecting rapid advance in IoT uptake over the next five years, propelled by the launch of 5G connectivity: there will be between 1 – 2 billion cellular machine-to-machine connections by 2020 according to GSMA, putting pressure on network capacity and security – key challenges facing today’s ICTs regulators. As the IoT era expands, we need to put flexible and neutral regulation policies in place to ensure positive market growth, while simultaneously ensuring fair operating conditions for service providers and fair prices for consumers.
To adequately prepare for this data intensive IoT future, markets have been investing in broadband, with investment for the fibre infrastructure expected to reach USD 144.2 billion between 2014 – 2019. Additionally, 308 operators worldwide have launched or are planning to launch LTE deployments, 138 of which are in developing markets. New market entrants, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, have also invested in broadband networks and emerging technology. Regulators have a key role in attracting these new market entrants by working with technology pilots and providing clarity on passive infrastructure sharing rights.
With this vast expansion of integrated technology, ensuring security becomes a fundamental and vital concern. Traditionally latent devices will require security software; vulnerable IoT devices could be accessed and used to attack local networks and other devices, retrieving potentially sensitive information about users. A further issue is the amount of personal information that can be collected in private spaces from seemingly innocuous sensor data, especially when combined with data from other sources. The access, use and sharing of this information will need to be stringently regulated in order to protect users.
There will be numerous challenges facing regulators as we enter this new and vastly connected ecosystem, which will require an adaptable and responsive regulatory approach to ensure the best outcome for all. Additional regulatory challenges and opportunities, including network sharing and interoperability, are discussed in the newly published Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2016 – preview here.
Sofie Maddens (@smaddens) is the Head of the Regulatory and Market Environment Division of the ITU BDT. She has worked as Regulatory and Policy Expert in the telecommunications/ICT sector in international and multi-cultural environments around the world. She has managed complex private sector, government, and regional and international projects and grants for national governments and their National Regulatory Authorities, the European Commission, the World Bank, the Telecommunications Development Bureau of the ITU as well as for a wide variety of private telecommunications, consulting and financial sector clients.