The Internet Of Things: Navigating Through Uncharted Territory

Organizations weighed in on several issues

6 May 2015

Photo-illustration: iStockphoto

This article is part of a series highlighting the work of  IEEE’s global offices .

On 25 February a breakfast debate took place in the European Parliament on the Internet of Things (IoT). It was organized by the European Internet Forum (EIF) in cooperation with IEEE, and was a well-attended, well-balanced event with more than 50 participants from different organizations including BMW, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), Samsung Electronics Europe, EU FI-WARE Future Internet Public Private Partnership, and civil society.

Lambert van Nisterlrooij, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament from the European People’s Party and member of the EIF, opened the debate, highlighting the importance of the IoT in people’s lives. According to van Nisterlrooij, the Internet of Things, with its pervasive and expansive reach, can be seen in various sectors including entertainment and automotive. Therefore, he said, the EU should take advantage of the opportunity presented, move forward, and become a revolutionary player.

ISSUES OF CONCERN

There was broad consensus among the participants that the Internet of Things could have a great impact on people’s lives. Mario Campolargo, director of Net Futures for the European Commission DG Connect, argued that the Internet of Things is a technology that by its nature can boost innovation while improving the lives of millions. In addition, the IoT is a crosscutting technology that is in a position to alter the current business model. “Ordinary” people, like the girl or the guy next door, for instance, would be empowered to build up their own mobile applications, he said, making use of big data. However, for Campolargo, the core value of the IoT lies in the following:

  • The relationship of big data and the Internet of Things is a complementary one.
  • The IoT is an essential element of the industry digitalization process.
  • The need to follow a horizontal approach as well as to recognize the cross-sectorial nature of Big Data (transfer of data from one sector to the other) is equally important.
  • The security aspect should not be overlooked. Issues such as data protection, privacy, and security are of paramount importance for EU citizens, and the European Commission should not lose track of this.

The floor was later given over to Chuck Adams, past president of the IEEE-SA, who claimed that the IoT is the inclusion of different rapidly evolving elements such as data analytics and clouds services. Therefore, the real challenge is how to bring together heterogeneous stakeholders and convince them about the need to work together to build a common governing structure. In that respect, he referred to the IEEE Internet of Things Initiative, which aims to promote a holistic approach with reference to the IoT. Before closing, he stressed the importance of having the standards communities work together given the fact that, in an ever-changing environment, no one can stand alone.

Ilkka Lakaniemi, programme chairman of the Future Internet Public Private Partnership, took the floor next and argued that the IoT has had a cross-societal effect, altering the lives of all people, not only the “elite.”  He argued that the IoT has also had a great impact on the business and services models. For Lakaniemi, businesses should be engaged in finding new ways of modus operandi, penetrate new markets, optimize their services, and become more efficient.

Although he expressed some radical views; for instance, he made reference to the jobs losses that the IoT has led to (many professions have disappeared over the years), he also argued that the IoT has led to the transformation of economies, thus creating news professions that did not exist a few years ago.

Andrew Fielding, vice president of Samsung Electronics Europe, focused on three main points:

  • Connectivity is paramount to the success of the IoT. Spectrum efficiency is continuously being increased (normally every two years); therefore, spectrum should be the core of the IoT.
  • Standards cannot be isolated. By 2020 all Samsung devices will be able to communicate with each other, and this is a new reality that the world needs to embrace.
  • Net neutrality requires legal certainty as well as data protection. Without a clear framework, no further advancement can take place.

Frank Strebe, the representative from BMW, argued that the IoT has also influenced people’s mobility behaviour. Applications that have led to time optimization of public transportation as well as the tendency of the younger generation not to buy cars, but instead use other solutions such as car-sharing services, have pushed the automotive industry to its limits. Therefore, the challenge is how to keep people interested in cars, he said. In his view, the connected car is the ultimate IoT. The shift from better cars to better services should be the objective of every automotive company that wants to succeed.

JOB GROWTH

The attendees wanted to learn more about the relationship between the IoT and jobs growth. In that respect, speakers argued that it is a matter of perspective. It is true that many professions will be outdated in the future, but it is also true that new fields of expertise will be created. For instance, in Finland, a report has been released stating that in the years to come one third of the current jobs will be lost. How media deal with this information plays a crucial role on people’s perspective. Unfortunately, most of the time, the media decide to emphasize only the negative side of the story (job losses), thus generating only a negative connotation. What is often omitted is that new opportunities will rise in various sectors, such as the gaming industry.

DATA PROTECTION

With reference to the data protection questions, the speakers admitted that people’s data is worth a fortune, and companies will always try to get the best out of it, while they acknowledged the bitter truth that data will continue to be collected and stored forever. However, in their views the most important question is how best to balance people’s right to privacy with community benefits. They said there was no easy answer.

What was also interesting was that the attendees wanted to know whether the commission is considering updating civil law given the fact that in a few years, smart devices will make choices for us. The commission replied that the data have moral and economic value and in that respect, close cooperation with the Directorate General for Justice is needed. It seemed to recognize the importance of extending the legal framework beyond the current areas but right now nothing concrete is on the table.

Karine Iffour is the director of IEEE Business Development Europe, based in the IEEE Brussels office.

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