5G networks will be fundamental in driving the rise of Internet of Things (IoT) projects across the UK, but privacy fears must be addressed head-on to ensure development is not stifled, according to MP and former UK government science minister David Willetts.
Willetts, speaking at the 5G Huddle event in London, said he was excited about the potential for 5G to be the true driver of IoT services, ranging from smart cities to internet-connected home appliances and smart meters.
“5G will make the Internet of Things possible and connect many more objects and things than just people and phones. This is what has really caught the imagination in government,” he said.
Willetts added that he believes the UK market is ideally placed to lead 5G developments, citing work ranging from designing standards for 5G and the rise of R&D centres, to the clamour from UK cities to host emerging tech projects.
However, he said this good work must not be undermined by the public being fearful of providing IoT services with their data, despite the benefits on offer, with the NHS’s care.data project cited as an example of how easily this can happen.
“The care.data story is a warning for us all. It is far better if the industry can be early on writing standards and protocols to protect privacy now rather than later on down the track," he said.
Willetts cited Google's purchase of Nest as an example of this, as it shows just how vital data is to major tech firms. “What is Google's strategy for making that investment? Clearly it’s another massive flow of data they will be able to collect and harness."
To tackle this, Willetts said more must be done to give more clarity and power to individuals to take control of their data and understand how they share it.
"We need to be clear legally about who owns the data about what an individual and their device are up to,” he said.
"One idea being discussed is there should be sort of modest payment for the use of data. At the moment there’s a sort of bartering based on the idea the data has no value but you get services for free by providing it. That model is going to have to change.”
Also speaking at the event was Simon Towler, the head of telecommunications policy at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), who said the government is keen to do all it can to support 5G growth.
“We want the UK to be at forefront of the development of wireless technology of and 5G. To that end we are trying to ensure that our policy and legislation provide the best possible environment for the development of 5G.”
5G services are expected to start becoming widespread from around 2020, with the government ploughing significant funding into research on these new networks, such as £35m to the University of Surrey.
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