The EU is failing to embrace wireless 2.0
by Malcolm Harbour
The next generation of wireless devices could dramatically change society and boost economic growth, but the European Commission must do more to aid business - warns MEP
Many developing technologies have the potential to drive growth across Europe. The emerging technology of wirelessly-connected devices, known in the digital-technology industry as the 'internet of things' is one of those. Only a few years ago - a future where everyday objects such as phones, cars, household appliances, clothes and even food packages are wirelessly connected to the internet through smart chips, collecting and sharing data, would have seemed like a fantasy world.
The European Commission is currently consulting on rules for such wirelessly-connected devices. It wants to know what framework is needed to unleash the potential economic and social benefits of the internet of things. At the same time - it is vital that adequate safeguards on the gathering, processing and storing of information by these devices are put in place. As a result of the consultation, the commission will produce a package of proposals. But the time schedule for publication is not until summer 2013. With momentum behind this rapidly emerging technology, the commission may be leaving it too late.
There is huge unexploited potential in the internet of things. If the necessary specifications and protocols can be agreed on a Europe-wide basis, it will unlock myriad socially and economically attractive technologies. However, time is passing and there is a real danger that lack of a proper EU framework will stall progress. It could also lead to a variety of technologies evolving which are not compatible and could block both consumer choice and competition. There is a fear that this huge economic opportunity could be missed; something member states can ill afford.
People on the move could use their smartphone to control the fridge or central heating back at home or to lock and unlock their doors. Health services could collect and share real time information about the care of patients in remote locations. The possibilities are endless. Wirelessly-connected devices will be the next great digital leap forward, with all the potential for economic growth alongside it. The commission must be a catalyst for progress, not a hindrance. It is heading in the right direction in compiling the report, but it is vital for the commission to show greater ambition and a more urgent pace and be at the forefront of this technology. European firms wanting to develop and exploit this technology must be given a sustained competitive advantage.
Malcolm Harbour is a Conservative Party MEP for the West Midlands, in the United Kingdom. He is also chairman of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee in the European Parliament