The "Internet of Things" (IoT) is extending Internet usage — hitherto limited to communications between physical persons using computers or, more recently, mobile telephones — to objects communicating with each other or with servers. As a result, by 2020 according to some forecasts, as many as 50 (Cisco, Ericsson) to 80 (IDATE) billion objects could be interconnected. While figures and corresponding perimeters vary considerably, all the estimates indicate that connected objects will impact data transmissions.
The IoT will no doubt affect significantly such diverse sectors as health, transport and agriculture and will be making a contribution to the future configuration of industry, networked homes and smart cities. Such developments will benefit the economy and society as a whole but may also raise challenging issues, in particular as regards security and protection of privacy.
Irrespective of the type of connection chosen — local, dedicated, cellular or satellite networks for example — the IoT will be largely dependent on access to spectrum. While wireline networks serve to connect some objects, wireless technology will likely be the main vehicle for the growth of IoT, as ARCEP noted in their 2016 White Paper. For short range applications, such as those connecting smart home devices, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology will likely be adequate. Cellular networks, LPWA networks dedicated to the IoT or again satellite networks could likely be preferred for the development of device connection over long distances. For players involved in managing spectrum, the challenge of the IoT could be both the vast number of objects to be connected and the diversity of connectivity solutions.
Many French players (Sigfox, Qowisio, Actility, Adeunis RF and Kerlink) are as of now staking out a claim to the IoT, in France and abroad. The sector also offers a large number of opportunities for improving the production process and also for cost saving, in particular thanks to predictive maintenance, remotely controlled equipment and sensor data processing. Sensors, which could be integrated into machines, will measure temperature, vibration, humidity, pressure or the object’s position, for example.
In the production sector, a PWC report, Industry 4.0 - Opportunities and Challenges of the Industrial Internet, predicts that the industrial internet (the digitization of value chains and connectivity of objects) could lead to an increase of 18% in productivity and efficiency in the use of resources within five years, thus making a contribution to sustainable development. The report, which was based on a questionnaire sent to companies in the German industrial sector, the results of which were extrapolated to Europe, also came to the conclusion that the digitization of products and services could generate as much as €110 billion per annum in additional revenue accruing to the European industrial sector. Concerning the IoT, IDATE predicts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14% in the 2015 to 2025 period, arriving at a global figure of 155 billion objects by 2025. This same report notes that in 2013, North America was the leading geographical IoT market with a 12% CAGR. Europe came second but would drop down to third on the list in 2025 because of its lower CAGR (14%) compared to Asia-Pacific’s 16%.
The proliferation of connected objects, the nature of these devices, their environment (domestic or industrial, for example), the rate at which their use expands, the role of their operators, the kind of network involved, the kind of authorisation procedure governing them, as well as quality of service, are all factors which must be integrated into spectrum management for connected objects. Spectrum control and public exposure also enter into the equation.
A vast palette of resources is already available for connected objects, including:
- mobile operator networks (currently GPRS technology; new broadband or narrowband technologies developed by 3GPP in the near future);
- licence-exempt bands, including 169 MHz, 433 MHz, 868 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz;
- private networks for certain sectors (energy, transport);
- satellite frequencies.
A number of IoT stakeholders have nevertheless underlined the urgent need for new resources to be provided in the 800 and 900 MHz bands under a general authorisation regime. This view echoes the work the Agency has been doing since 2015 in cooperation with ARCEP and the Ministry of Defence. ARCEP’s White Paper on IoT also highlights this point.
While a large number of objects could be connected using low-speed services, such objects might be in everyday use and therefore present in large numbers, which would raise issues of spectrum occupancy. Other objects might require broadband connectivity, for example to send video content. The degree of pressure that connected objects will exert on spectrum will still depend on how they are connected to their servers. Connection may be either direct, requiring kilometric frequencies and therefore the obligation at some point to find specific frequency bands for such uses, or indirect, using licence-exempt bands to access smartphones or nearby access sites relaying communications to servers. This second type of configuration, which is currently predominant, helps to moderate the demands these new applications make on spectrum.
There is ongoing work on the following:
- the possible usefulness of opening other frequency bands for IoT, the 1900-1920 MHz band for example, under a general authorisation regime.
- the measures to be taken to facilitate spectrum use for private networks in the case of IoT applications needing protection from interference. Preferences as regards PMR and IoT frequency ranges and technologies will have an impact on future decisions regarding the 400 MHz band or the PMR bands above 1GHz (see the section on future PPDR and PMR networks);
- the technological choices that mobile operators will be making as regards new radio interfaces dedicated to IoT connections.