European rules ‘must not be allowed to stifle internet of things’

Understanding the potential of the new, connected environment is essential, say digital technology experts.

The internet of things (IoT) is set to transform businesses in ways not seen since the emergence of mobile telecommunications two decades ago. Understanding what the impact of this transformative and disruptive technological change will be was the central focus of a recent day-long conference in Brussels. 

Organised by the Digital Enlightenment Forum, Huawei and PublicTechnology’s sister publication The Parliament Magazine, the event brought together EU policymakers, technology experts and industry representatives to examine how best Europe can meet the policy, technology and application challenges posed by the internet of things.

Mario Campolargo, the Net Futures director within the European Commission’s DG Connect, told participants that the IoT presented both huge challenges and opportunities and that, “IoT will create revolutionising the way mobile phones did many years ago.” 

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He said it was vitally important to understand the potential of combining data and connectivity, arguing that; “It’s not just about selling machines, but services. IoT is not a technology, it’s a radically different understanding of what a market is going to be so requires strategic thinking in terms of industrial strategy.”

“We [also] hope that – above all – IoT will be a lot of fun.” The European Commission is set to invest more than €100m in large-scale pilot projects related to developing the IoT. 

Opening the event, George Metakides, the president of the Digital Enlightenment Forum called for cybersecurity to be at the heart of Europe’s digital single market (DSM), saying, “The DSM should ensure interoperability, while at the same time putting people in the centre, ensuring trust and security in this new world.”

Without these necessary provisions, Metakides warned that, “we risk the nightmare scenarios of households full of malevolent imps misbehaving or systems driven by disgruntled leprechauns – not to mention the spy in the coffee machine.”

He told the conference that when the IoT was coined, “it was a relatively modest vision, envisaging a simple world of products to facilitate the inventorying and management of supplies.”

However, the IoT’s future is a “far more complex ecosystem”, he said, highlighting the conjunction o cloud computing and future networks, particularly in the form of 5G. “This convergence gives rise to powerful ecosystems full of promise and also the need to be sensible about risks.”

However, the EU must not become risk averse or allow its rules to stifle technological innovation. The emergence of new IoT ecosystems will be crucial to the development of “hotbeds of innovation,” according to technology veteran Wim de Waele.

The CEO of Belgium’s Eggsplore, de Waele has been in the ICT business for almost 30 years. He reiterated the importance of funding large-scale pilot programmes, where people and organisations could experiment with new technology.

Somewhat controversially, he urged the EU to abandon some of its stringent privacy rules. He argued “I would encourage the European Commission and local authorities to not only put the user in the middle, but also to get rid of the privacy rules they are so hung up about.”

He warned that such rules “are hampering the introduction of technologies” and could be safely relaxed in controlled environments.

“Organisations where ideas flow freely are the future,” said De Waele, adding, “If organisations adapt, they can be hotbeds of innovation. As a large organisation you have to think about how to build an ecosystem that captures external innovation.”

Eggsplore’s CEO Wim de Waele Huawei’s IoT European head, Karabet Krikorian, set out the company’s key technology developments in the area. 

He explained that the IT giant was actively working on the development of an IoT platform based on connectivity and application enablement. Krikorian highlighted the current lack of standardisation across the IoT market, the many different types of application interfaces and various programming languages. 

However, he described how, as an example of integrated technology, a smart car system could automatically open a garage door or switch an entrance door light on based on remote sensoring. 

He also explained how Huawei’s IoT platform for industry 4.0 included such integrated an IoT platform, IoT field integration and how the company was focussing on the connection between security and lifecycle management.

He added that an important aspect for 4.0 was “industrial interconnect”. “We cannot separate industry from the IoT” because of the rise in smart energy and smart logistics, he said.

Meanwhile, Thibaut Kleiner, the head of unit of network technologies at DG Connect, said the EU was at “a key moment in policy in relation to IoT” and suggested that new legislation may be needed to address the challenges presented by the growth of IoT. 

Kleiner questioned whether a “horizontal data approach” was needed, asking, “Do we need essential elements in terms of privacy in general, or something specific for IoT?”

Some important privacy questions may be covered in general, but “others deserve attention in terms of policymaking and possible legislation”.

For Robert MacDougall, head of enterprise regulation at Vodafone, the DSM is the key policy initiative. He told the conference that a key aim was to, “identify existing or potential market barriers that prevent the takeup of IoT in the context of the DSM.”

Cornelia Kutterer, a Microsoft policy director spoke of the transformation of the industry as a result of cheaper hardware and new innovative scenarios.

“As we moved to the cloud and became active in the IoT, we are getting closer to business. The fact that every company is a data company is key.”

Sébastien Ziegler, of Mandat International IoT forum, used his presentation to set out changes in the IoT landscape. He said IoTwas becoming “highly scalable but also very pervasive.”

That it is distributable everywhere brings important consequences for the privacy debate, he suggested. He also spoke of a “paradigm shift towards end-users”, and how to combine technical research with this end-user focus. This is important for citizens as the drivers for IoT, he said.

With more than 50 standards organisations attempting to oversee ever faster technological advancements, the issue of improving IoT standards unsurprisingly generated fierce debate. 

Yu Chao Hu, Director of standardisation and partnership strategies at Huawei, said that there were an enormous amount of standards setting bodies and organisations involved in IoT. 

“Everybody makes their own architecture, everybody states that their architecture is the real architecture.” However, he continued, “nobody knows how the different architectures are correlated to each other.”

He also spoke about the impact of open source software on IoT, calling it a “different sort of paradigm [which] is changing the standards world quite rapidly and is quite disruptive”.

Seeking to explain the abundance of standards organisations and bodies, Jacopo Cassina of Holonix said, “Standards have developed in a peer to peer, bottom-up way, rather than top down.”

However, he suggested that, “Fragmentation in this case is a richness. Open standards enable us to target markets and interoperate with other systems.”

Meanwhile, Ulrich Seldeslachts of LSEC warned of a digital divide in Europe. He told stakeholders that the European Commission needed to support industries in member states and help them to understand specifically where they need to apply further attention to transform themselves. 

Scandinavian countries and Germany will be more advanced and more ready to develop proof of concepts than some countries in the Southern parts,” said Seldeslachts.

The IoT’s impact on consumers and wider society was the topic of two keynote speeches, with Frederic Donck, the regional director for Europe of Information Society (ISOC), an organisation that aims to maintain the internet as an open platform, calling for a holistic and multi-stakeholder approach to tackling the security challenges that IoT poses. 

“The internet is so important, no single stakeholder can manage it. We need a new way to consider risk and security”, he said. 

“It isn’t just about inward risk to my device, but also outward risk and the fact that my device may be used as an entry point”. 

One impact on regulation could be that manufacturers are held responsible for the level of security of a device along the lines of a ‘polluter pays principle’.

Colin Marrs

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