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The Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly seen as a major issue for the telecoms industry, both for the opportunities and for the challenges it poses. The explosion of connected devices also requires prompt and careful regulatory enabling, which has so far been lacking in most countries – comprehensive initiatives to deal with regulatory aspects for IoT have so far been very rare.

With two recent statements, the UK regulator Ofcom has shown that it leads the way in understanding the complexities of such a vast connected environment. Other regulators should follow Ofcom’s example in due course to ensure that their frameworks are up to speed with the fast-changing world of the connected devices.

The UK regulator is covering most relevant areas of IoT, but should also look at roaming

Two recent steps taken by the UK regulator Ofcom have confirmed its leading role in regulating for M2M and IoT. Ofcom is one of the first regulators in the world to handle regulation in these areas in a comprehensive way and with a focus on the impact that the explosion of connected devices will have on the whole communications market.

Following extensive testing carried out during 2014, on February 12, 2015 the regulator gave the green light to the industry to exploit the benefits of TV white spaces (the unused parts of spectrum in the 470MHz to 790MHz band). Ofcom’s decision will ensure dynamic and flexible spectrum access using databases.

Ofcom is not the first regulator in the world to grant use of white spaces; this has already been possible for some time in the US and in Canada. However, the regulator is also having a broader look at how to promote investment and innovation in the IoT, as highlighted in a consultation paper issued at the end of January 2015. Ofcom has identified several priority areas for IoT, including spectrum availability, data privacy, network security and resilience, and network addresses.

As Ovum noted in The Regulation of M2M Services, the areas mentioned above are the key aspects the need regulatory attention in the near future. However, few regulators have so far tackled these issues in a comprehensive way. In particular, spectrum awards require more careful consideration, whereas more progress has been made with regard to numbering policies for M2M.

All regulators should also look at the issue of roaming, because connected devices often operate as permanent roamers with their respective SIM cards. This is something Ofcom should also look at, given that its consultation on IoT does not touch on this aspect. However, it will likely require European coordination, given the EC’s efforts in regulating roaming within the EU.


Further reading

Cellular Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Tracker: Regional Summaries, 1H 2014, TE0004-001004 (January 2015)

Data Protection Tracker: 1Q15, TE0007-000867 (January 2015)

The Regulation of M2M Services, TE009-000975 (June 2013)


Luca Schiavoni, Analyst, Regulation

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