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ITU calls for light-touch regulations as IoT becomes reality

Steve Rogerson
July 23, 2015
 
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is calling for a flexible, light touch when it comes to regulations as broadband connectivity becomes increasingly pervasive and the hyper-connected world of the IoT starts to become a reality.
 
The latest edition of the ITU’s report on global ICT regulatory development also calls for a recognition of the rights of both businesses and consumers in defining new frameworks for an emerging global digital environment.
 
Characterised by greater complexity and cross-sector implications, fourth-generation regulations are attempting to come to grips with the enormous social and economic disruption ICT is bringing in its wake, says the report.
 
“There are many ways in which ICT can make the world a better place,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU secretary-general. “In a digital world, creating the conditions for a data-driven economy to flourish is a must, so getting the regulatory environment right is absolutely vital.”
 
To assist ICT regulators and policy makers, ITU has developed an ICT regulatory tracker, an evidence-based analytical tool to help pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of regulatory interventions. As featured in the report, the tracker shows that an optimised combination of just a handful of key regulatory measures is closely associated with a catalytic effect on ICT market take-up.
 
The report confirms that future network traffic will increasingly be driven by M2M traffic generated by billions of connected devices, products and sensors, with M2M communications over mobile cellular networks already emerging as the fastest-growing ICT service in terms of traffic.
 
In total, one billion different kinds of wireless IoT devices are expected to be shipped in 2015, up 60 per cent from 2014 to reach a predicted installed base of 2.8bn connected devices by the end of 2015. Wearable devices were estimated to have reached 109 million by the beginning of 2015.
 
As many as 25bn networked devices are predicted to be connected by 2020, driven largely by consumer-connected entities – including businesses, hospitals, local authorities and other organisations and institutions – and followed by manufacturing, utilities and transportation. In terms of revenues, the market for IoT is expected to grow to US$1.7tn by 2019 to become the largest device market worldwide.
 
At the device level, demand for tablets is expected to reach 234.5 million units in 2015. And while global shipments of PCs and laptops is forecast to go into chronic global decline, analysts predict worldwide sales of up to 1.4bn smartphones in 2015, exceeding the sales of the PC, television, tablet and game console sectors combined, in terms of both units and revenues.
 
For many consumers in developing markets, the internet will be intrinsically linked to a smartphone – particularly with strong growth predicted in the low-cost smartphone segment. Strong growth in IoT deployment will also put new pressure on network infrastructure development, which is already facing funding challenges in many markets.
 
“This trends report analyses how the changes that are taking place in the digital ecosystem are impacting both individual consumers and businesses and society at large,” said Brahima Sanou, director of the ITU’s telecommunications development bureau, which produces the annual study. “The report addresses issues that span the full range of ICT policy-making, and delves into some important, but challenging, questions.”
 
The report found that a proliferation of apps was turning consumers into digital social consumers, digital communicators and prime agents of change in a digital transformation that is sweeping the ICT sector.
 
In January 2015, the number of global active social media accounts reached over two billion, with active mobile social accounts representing 81 per cent of that total. With active social media users spending an average of nearly two hours and 25 minutes per day on social platforms, the economic impact of the time spent on social media has not been lost on marketers and advertisers.
 
But while the blurring of lines between the physical and digital world is creating new economic opportunities, it is also raising a host of social questions and challenges for regulators. Consumers are presented with new opportunities brought about by the greater choice of devices, online services and applications, but are also more at risk of losing control of their privacy and personal information. Identifying proactive policy and regulatory measures in addition to co-regulatory and self-regulatory initiatives geared towards educating and empowering consumers are essential to providing frameworks that will stimulate investment and innovation while at the same time protecting the rights of all users in an open, transparent and inclusive digital world.
 
Every hour of every day, over one hundred million photos are uploaded to Facebook: every second, one hour’s worth of video footage is uploaded onto YouTube. Google is estimated to process well over a petabyte of data every single day – equivalent to 100 times the data stored in the largest library in the world, the US Library of Congress.
 
With the cost of computing – both processing and storage – falling and the speed and ease with which data can be transferred rising with ever-faster processor speeds, applications that draw on big data are proliferating.
 
Data that cost US$150,000 to store in 1970 now cost as little as one cent. Advanced software to aid fast data retrieval, new-breed databases capable of storing very diverse and unstructured data, and fast-improving sensor technology are together making it possible to capture ever more aspects of human existence in digital form – precisely and at low cost.
 
The report outlines eight principles of big data implementation, and recognises big data’s power as a driver of innovation. But it also warns of the potential downside to the dramatic increase in the collection and storage of data, including personal data, and notes that regulators will need to come to grips fast with both the positive and negative applications to maintain consumer trust.