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As society progresses toward the Internet of Things (IoT), the increasing connectivity between millions of devices will bring significant opportunities to all industry verticals. Early considerations of the governance implications have focused on the potential security and privacy consequences implicit in connecting everything to everything else; however, there are wider considerations that will require major operational changes.

Reliance on connectivity will require different thinking

Deployment of large numbers of low-cost sensors across all industry verticals, coupled with the integration of appliances into the IoT, has the potential to revolutionize every consumer service. Many commentators have highlighted the governance issues to be addressed, generally concentrating on concerns regarding the security and privacy of the data captured by the "things." Recent experience has indicated that the governance issues are broader than this, however, and may require fundamental trade-offs between privacy and service availability.

During a recent residential broadband migration that involved numerous delays and extended outages, the author made a number of significant observations. Firstly, although the migrated service included the provision of a fixed-line phone service, the absolute priority for the household was the provision of data. In fact, when the data service was restored with advice that the fixed-line service would follow some days later, the general opinion was "who cares?" This might be regarded as a standard reaction in 2015, but it was not too long ago that the household phone was regarded as the critical service to install and maintain at all costs.

Secondly, when service was lost a week later, when the service bill payer was overseas, fault-reporting calls by affected customers were rejected due to "privacy concerns" because they were not the bill payer. Although the appropriate protection of customer privacy is imperative, the fact that reliable data services will form a critical communications backbone for more and more essential services requires careful consideration.

Are we really suggesting that in the case of an electrical power outage, someone calling the power company to report it – before the freezer defrosted or they couldn't run their dialysis machine – would be told "we can't help because you are not the account holder?" Such a response would justifiably cause a major outcry. As more and more important, or even critical, services become dependent on a viable internet connection the same expectation will be made of broadband data services.

Fixed broadband is a location-based service, like power, gas, and water. As is the case for these utilities, faults and service outages need to be able to be reported by anyone at the location. However, given that the vast majority of future services are going to be running over mobile networks, utility-like fault reporting will arguably be required for mobile systems as well.

Given the significant tightening of legislative privacy requirements in many jurisdictions in recent years, both regulators and service providers are going to have their work cut out to ensure that managing privacy obligations does not incur unintended consequences for service availability.


Further reading

Regulating the IoT requires intervention in five key areas,TE0007-000900 (April 2015)


Al Blake, Principal Analyst, Public Sector

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