Opinion

Creating an Internet of People

TV Ramachandran | Updated on January 20, 2018

Holistic tech Understanding it is complex, but a must for policy

To achieve this, robust rules and policies should drive the Internet of Things and broadband in India. Here’s a roadmap



Amidst all the excitement around broadband, Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities, the influence of policy and regulation is not getting the attention it deserves. According to global telecom apex body, ITU, India falls in the class of the least connected countries and suffers from not only very low internet and broadband adoption but is also characterised by very low net speeds. On the Global 20 IoT index, research firm IDC has ranked India at a lowly 16 in 20.

The key ingredients to successful adoption of IoT and broadband are network connectivity, cloud, security and infrastructure and India faces huge challenges in each of these areas. We, therefore, need to consider whether we have, firstly, the right policy and regulatory programmes to not only address these challenges but also facilitate and catalyse this vital new development in a harmonious and sustainable manner.

One advantage is that being at a very nascent stage, and the policymakers have a great opportunity to lead with the optimum policy to facilitate development.

Also, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has rightly led with formulating a comprehensive Roadmap on Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications and the Department of IT (DEITy) has put out with a draft IoT Policy. These are excellent starting points. We now need to urgently consolidate and progress to the next stage.

Urgent particularly because 4G LTE is already taking off in India and, elsewhere, it drives IoT revenues by up to 45 per cent.

Four approaches

There are four main approaches policymakers could employ regarding IoT:

Precautionary rules: Some policymakers focus on the potential risks associated with IoT and regulate it accordingly. They believe pre-emptive regulations will increase consumer trust and increase adoption, but heavy-handed rules impose costs, limit innovation, and slow adoption.

No intervention: Some policymakers believe the free market operating independently of government interventions achieves the maximum possible consumer benefit. However, by avoiding all interventions, they miss the opportunity to proactively support the deployment of IoT.

Indigenous innovation: Policymakers view IoT as an opportunity to create export opportunities for domestic firms. They may endorse policies that hinder foreign companies from competing in the domestic market, such as adopting national technical standards rather than adopting international ones.

Technology champions: Some policymakers have taken a proactive role in accelerating the development and deployment of IoT, such as by funding research on sensor networks, creating pilot projects for smart cities, preventing over-regulation of wearable health technologies, and providing incentives for smart grid deployment. These policymakers see government as a critical partner in promoting the benefits that come from using these technologies.

Finding a balance

India needs to find its own appropriate balance of the above approaches for optimum results. A set of recommendations for IoT, made by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), could be eminently suitable for India too:

Policymakers’ approach to IoT should adhere to competition, and technology-neutrality principles.

Policymakers should encourage and leverage voluntary, open and consensus-based standards.

Policymakers should employ regulatory approval approaches that are globally harmonised, transparent and streamlined.

Utilise a spectrum policy that maximises a continuity of connectivity.

Promote efforts to modernise wired media for IoT applications.

Utilise a voluntary, flexible and collaborative approach to data security, based on global standards.

Ensure flexibility and feasibility in addressing data privacy.

The challenges

That said, our policymakers face a set of challenges. Let’s look at them.

No Standards: Standardisation is a form of economic self-regulation that can relieve the government of the responsibility for developing detailed technical specifications while ensuring that voluntary, consensus standards serve the public interest.

Security and management: Consumers are worried that a ‘smart’ home security system that records everything in their home may also be a way for hackers to override their home security system or infringe personal moments. With IoT comes billions of new terminals, all connected via IP-addresses. Unsecured devices increase organisations’ vulnerability to cyber threats.

Scaling up: The first step to ensure a fit for IoT in an organisation is to start with a pilot program. This will help determine how the actual programme will roll out and to understand the areas that require extreme attention during execution.

Customer experience: One of the key reasons of increasing popularity of IoT is improved customer experience. IoT is still growing and there are more than just a few hurdles before businesses can maximise benefits. But the first step to overcome those hurdles is to identify them.

Ecosystem: IoT being a platform business, it can only be successful if different parts of the ecosystem inter-work efficiently. This creates another layer of complexity.

Till date, network and telecom operators needed to focus on just the working on providing the best network connectivity solution, which was consumed by all categories of customers with minimum tweaks. In IoT, the success of network providers will depend on the sensors and the kind of data they can collect the analytics as well as the hardware and the final solution.

The ability of each aspect of the value chain to add value in the system will decide the collective success of the ecosystem.

This would necessarily need all these disparate industry groups to develop common language, program management systems and have a working understanding of the each other.

Additionally, there needs to be understanding of industry and domain verticals and business needs. Disparate businesses will have to work extremely closely together to gain success as a norm rather than as projects.

The security and data sharing concerns have to be addressed urgently. IoT is global platform, so trying to create country specific standards will be counterproductive; however, creating country-specific data management and security regulations is critical to safeguard national interests.

Policymakers need to innovate in order to maximise the considerable promise of IoT for economic growth and social well-being. India needs to determine its own optimum mix of possible approaches and policy so that we achieve an accelerated deployment and adoption of IoT concurrently with the much-needed penetration of the Internet of People.

The writer is an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, London The views are personal

Published on April 27, 2016

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