This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2017

USA- Washington DC – 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the iPhone.   My company, AT&T, is proud to have helped bring the first iPhone to market, and through our rapid adaptation towards a software defined network that could scale-up at pace with the over 150,000 percent growth in wireless data traffic demands since 2007, contributed to the smartphone revolution that has transformed daily life.  And what might the next ten years bring?  We can foresee even more revolutionary change, with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT).

This revolution is underway.  Within industry, AT&T already has enabled over its commercial mobile network more than 30 million connected devices to the IoT.   We have invested billions of dollars annually in broadband infrastructure and are helping to lead an industry transformation to next-generation Software-Defined Networks (SDN) that will enable virtual security, scale and performance capabilities to facilitate an expansion of a vastly diverse set of IoT services in the coming years.

Governments across the globe are actively involved in creating a more favorable environment for private sector IoT investment and deployment. Today, the United States and the European Union are examining how best to optimize the technical, security and privacy issues raised by the dispersion in IoT-enabled devices.  Europe has a research program on IoT issues as part of both the Horizon 2020 strategy and also the Digital Single Market initiative. Likewise, industry-led coalitions such as AIOTI and the Industrial Internet Coalition, are working on similar issues.

IoT is gaining prominence so quickly in part because of the dramatic and compelling efficiency gains that public and private sector actors can realize when they pair sensors, data analytic tools, and fact-based decision-making.  In fields as diverse as energy efficiency, water management, traffic-flow diagnostics and preventative health-care tools, IoT can help save lives and money.  And in the near future, the potential benefits and innovation are will increase with the coming deployment of 5G ultra-high speed mobile technology.  This next-generation technology is expected to offer faster speeds and lower latency, and tol facilitate the greater density of connected devices that will be connected to the IoT.  To take just one example, Machina Research estimates that by 2025, mobile networks will carry 50% of IoT data traffic, of which 45%, or nearly a quarter of total IoT traffic, will be communications between connected cars.

As the iPhone and apps shows, technology not only changes the lives of individuals, it also simultaneously disrupts and enables entire industries.  The vision for the IoT is boundless: connected cars, new health care processes, virtual reality as commonplace, and smart civic infrastructure.

Yet much work remains to achieve the vision of an interoperable global framework for IoT.    For example, the European Commission has noted that one potential obstacle is that the “large diversity and very large volumes of connected devices” will require new security standards, and must be compatible to IoT systems. Establishing widely accepted industry standards, both for 5G networks and for 5G-enabled IoT devices, will be critical for ensuring rapid IoT adoption.   Private sector leadership will be necessary in adopting these standards, as the clock ticks and the competitive advantage of the digital revolution is within reach.

Both European and American companies face similar pressures, and Europe and the US should work together closely on several important areas of policy necessary to support the IoT.  For example, success for the IoT will require reallocation of generous amounts of spectrum for 5G use.  Likewise, data privacy frameworks will need to be evaluated to address cybersecurity requirements, as well as reliable mechanisms for cross-border data flows.   And to support all of this, infrastructure investment incentives and wise tax policies should be regularly reviewed to ensure they promote deployment and use of IoT-connected devices.

So many of these areas are clear opportunities for the US and Europe to work together to maximize the rewards and minimize the risks of an IoT world.  Companies on both sides of the Atlantic are expected to actively compete and promote growth and innovation that will help create more products and services for consumers in the connected world.  But the IoT will be best positioned to grow and flourish under a policy framework that encourages investment and innovation by all parties, thus leading to a virtuous cycle of growth in broadband-enabled technologies and devices.

Disruptive innovation is a critical pathway to economic growth.  Some may think that the European Union and the United States are to some degree competitors in technology development, each wanting to innovate faster than the other.  Both, however, regard technological progress as critical to shared interests.   For both sides of the Atlantic, I encourage a comprehensive policy roadmap to technological investment and innovation that, whenever possible, applies regulation in a horizontally consistent way across industry, and adheres to a light-touch regulatory approach that encourages industry to develop smart and adaptable solutions to public policy priorities.