This content is part of ‘Our World’ (February 2018).

Consumers today expect to be connected from nearly anywhere, to just about anything. We’re moving to a world that will require instantaneous and ubiquitous connectivity. For AT&T, that means investing to be the premier integrated communications company in the world. Around the globe, we’re making cars, homes, machines, shipping containers, and more, smarter.

Our industry has experienced a dramatic shift over the past 10 years. The pace of change and innovation has been incredible. And the pace of new players entering the market has been just as staggering. AT&T is not only no longer defined as a voice provider; we’re not defined as a TV provider, an edge provider, or an equipment maker; but as an integrated communications provider, we’re all of these and more.

The new reality is this: We are all in the communications business. Now, legacy voice companies provide video; legacy video companies provide voice; and companies that didn’t exist a few short years ago provide both, and more. Innovation and competition is all around us. And that’s great for consumers, and great for the industry.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of these key innovative and hyper-competitive frontiers. IoT is transforming how we live, and it’s enabling new businesses ventures and new methods of service delivery—driving innovation in established industries such as automotive and package delivery.

With data derived from devices, the IoT is helping enable better allocation of resources, improved awareness, and enhanced services including:

• asset tracking for businesses;

• environmental and livestock monitoring for farming operations;

• smarter cities and communities with monitoring of public infrastructure resources – roads & transit, parking, utilities;

• healthcare monitoring and service delivery;

• wearables, activity monitors for individuals; and

• improved safety and convenience of connected cars.

Rapid change brings challenges as well as benefits

Policy challenges. The issues engendered by the IoT are as diverse and complex as the ecosystem itself, presenting both challenges unique to a particular industry (e.g., automotive safety), and challenges that apply across the board. Adapting policy frameworks to the cross-jurisdictional and cross-sectoral nature of IoT technologies and solutions can have positive effects, including:

• Ensuring a coherent approach to the IoT across various government agencies that may impact specific portions of it, or specific verticals within it.

• Ensuring a consistent and open approach across countries to enable global IoT solutions. First, with numbering resources. A policy that has the flexibility to support continued permanent machine-to-machine (M2M) roaming, without mandated conversion or reconfiguration, is essential because International permanent roaming is particularly suited to the global deployment of M2M or Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. This approach is also critical to areas such as regulatory approaches and data privacy requirements. Privacy and security span all sectors. We all have a shared interest in promoting consumer trust in IoT.

• Encouraging innovation and adoption of IoT within governments: Government users/customers of IoT – from Smart Cities to government agencies – will be significant beneficiaries of the IoT, but the customary acquisition models are often an obstacle.

• Ensuring there is a sufficient and balanced pipeline of licensed and unlicensed spectrum to keep up with the growing demand for spectrum posed by the IoT.

Recommended policy frameworks for IoT

1.Governments should encourage a comprehensive and consistent policy framework.  In any individual country, this requires coordination across the dozens of agencies that could have a role in regulating IoT. In absence of a well-coordinated, low-touch framework, there is a risk that duplicative and inconsistent sector-based regulation will impede growth of IoT – especially as we look to industries such as food and drug, aviation, transportation, communication, and energy.  Government agencies should work cooperatively with one another and with industry to coordinate process, streamline regulation and avoid duplication or inconsistency.

2. Promote international, interoperable policy frameworks. Many IoT solutions will only reach their optimal economic scale if they can operate around the globe. The economics of IoT devices are very different from handsets and tablets. It’s important that manufacturers can achieve scale, so they can “build it once, use it everywhere.” Foremost, regulatory policy must also allow for cross-border data flows and allow IOT providers to choose from a range of business models, including ability for IoT roaming that is optimal for their business model.

3. Support voluntary, collaborative initiatives to promote consumer trust. Government and the private sector have a shared interest in promoting consumer confidence in the IoT.  Our industry deeply understands that consumer trust in security and privacy is a critical component of commercial success.

As governments around the world grapple with how best to address cybersecurity and to promote trust and security, it is important that they engage in a transparent process that looks to existing privacy and security frameworks and standards that support technological innovation and growth that will ultimately lead to better security.  By collaborating with the private sector and obtaining cooperation and “buy-in” from all stakeholders, governments can often develop the best security policies and can help ensure companies be vested in developing highly secure systems.

4. Overall, adopt a light touch, flexible regulatory regime that protects innovation and facilitates rapid market developments. Let’s recognize ways in which IoT is different from traditional services, and don’t reflexively extend legacy regulation to new technologies and services.

5. Apply regulatory requirements and responsibilities consistently to IoT services on an end-to-end basis. Rules should be technology neutral and not single out individual companies, sectors or business models.

The critical goal for policymakers is to address these issues in a way that facilitates the progression of the IoT to enable consumers, businesses, and government institutions across the globe to realize the economic and social benefits of the IoT.