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Sleepy Ofcom glances at Internet of Things, rolls over, takes nap

UK watchdog prepares 37 pages of nothing

UK regulator Ofcom has published a report [PDF] into the so-called internet of things (IoT) in which it promises to do something at some point in the future.

In contrast to its US equivalent, the Federal Trade Commission – which also published a report on the internet of things today, complete with policy recommendations on security, "data minimization", and possible future legislation – Ofcom's effort reads like a hastily written school paper.

"We note that traditional approaches to data privacy may have some limitations in the context of the IoT," the report notes before making plain that it hasn't done any actual work on the issue, promising only to "work with relevant organizations… to identify and explore solutions."

A similar lack of drive is exhibited with regard to ongoing global policy discussions. As the sleepy civil servants note: "On an international level, we propose to contribute to IoT-related work streams within relevant European agencies."

As to the actual changes required to bring in what the tech industry says will a key future driver of the digital economy, Ofcom recognizes the need to increase wireless spectrum but notes repeatedly that things look fine in the "short to medium term."

IPv... what?

It also takes a dozy approach to the move from IPv4 to IPv6 addressing. "An additional factor is whether there is a need for access to the wider internet, which may suggest that the use of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) addressing in the longer term is necessary," the report yawns.

"On balance, we do not believe that IP address availability will be a barrier to the development of the IoT," it notes. "In the short to medium term, the subset of IoT applications that require internet connectivity can be supported using IPv4 addresses with appropriate network translation or application gateway. In the longer term, as demand for IPv6 support increases and operators continue to upgrade their networks, IPv6 will become available to support the operation of the IoT where necessary."

This peculiar slow-lane approach to IPv6 stands in contrast to most other countries' regulators and government agencies that are actively promoting the upgrade.

Ofcom has also been the subject of scathing criticism from one of its own experts, who ponders whether the agency's lack of enthusiasm is related to its seeing a potential windfall in selling off the government's IPv4 address – which are estimated at being worth between $500m and $1.5bn.

If you want to know what a real government regulator does when faced with market-changing technologies, on the other hand, you can read the FTC's report on its website [PDF]. ®

Updated to add

After publication, a spokesman for Ofcom got in touch to say:

Ofcom has already undertaken a number of initiatives to support the development of the IoT. These range from releasing spectrum last year for machine-to-machine communications and assessing the IoT’s future spectrum needs, to a review of the impact of the IoT on available telephone number resources. We’re continuing to work with industry, Government and other regulators to develop the IoT. We also believe the transition to IPv6 can help address the limits of the IPv4 address space, and we welcome major UK ISPs’ intention to introduce IPv6 this year.

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