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At MWC 2016 in Barcelona, Telefónica and Huawei announced a partnership deal to deliver Huawei's smart homes platform to Telefónica's customers in Latin America. The business news is straightforward: Telefónica can offer customers a service none of its rivals in Latin America currently do and Huawei gets to sell through the second-largest telecoms firm in the region. What's more interesting is what the proliferation of this kind of technology – which this deal will contribute to – might mean for public services, especially health and social care.

Smart homes could mean a lot to the elderly and infirm

Some see smart homes technology as intrusive, but those faced with a move to a depressing care home or endless hospital visits might see that as a price worth paying. But whatever the trade-offs, there is no getting away from the issues of privacy and security. Most household computers will be infected with some form of malicious code at some point. How prepared are we to take the same risks with our medical equipment? Governments and healthcare providers must be cautious: the opportunities presented by smart homes – and smart cities – are tremendous, but so are the risks.

Smart homes and smart cities are both underpinned by connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT), but they should be seen as separate concepts: cities are public spaces, and homes are private spaces. However, connected cities and connected homes present opportunities for personalized public services in both. Not everyone likes the idea, and it is easy to see why: the privacy implications are undeniably unsettling. Many question whether the convenience is worth the intrusion.

However, for the elderly and those with long-term health conditions, there is far more to it than mere convenience. Those with long-term conditions such as diabetes or heart disease could use connected medical devices for routine checkups at home, communicating with their doctors online and saving countless hours wasted in hospital waiting rooms. Dementia sufferers could continue to live at home for longer, instead of in care homes, supported and kept safe by automation and connected sensors. This is to say nothing of the money it could save health and social care services. Telefónica is no doubt aware of the opportunities: it already has a telehealth business, and the partnership with Huawei could help support its delivery in Latin America.


Further reading

Citizen Engagement: The Key to Smart Cities, IT0007-000839 (October 2015)

"We need to stop treating the 'smart city' as a blueprint," IT0007-000858 (December 2015)

"Governments are connecting devices with public services," IT0007-000845 (October 2015)

"IoT is an essential piece of the healthcare transformation puzzle," IT0011-000377 (October 2015)

"Smart homes: Haven’t we been here before?" TE0019-000013 (September 2015)


Nick Wallace, Analyst, Public Sector

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