As Nigeria prepares for machine-to-machine revolution
Last week in Lagos, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) gathered industry eggheads to discuss regulations regarding the full deployment of the Internet of Things (IoT) in Nigeria. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, in this report, writes about the planned move.
Advancement in computing power and wireless Internet connectivity appears to be fast transforming the globe. It is fast making the world smarter! From America to Europe, Asia to Australia down to Africa, devices are getting connected and becoming smarter.
It is noteworthy to say that technological innovation is fast helping the world to realise the potential of machine-to-machine interaction, where computers speak to another device seamlessly. The technology behind this has been the Internet of Things (IoT). Analysts believe IoT will be useful across all sectors, from industry to manufacturing and telecoms to engineering, among others.
For Nigeria to be part of this global movement and ensure that the benefits are not eroded, there must be regulations, as seen in countries where IoT is in full deployment.
As such, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) brought stakeholders together last week in Lagos to discuss the “Regulatory Roadmap for IoT Ecosystem in Nigeria.”
What is IoT?
IoT, which was first coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999, is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring any human intervention (human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction).
IoT is a network type that enables objects to communicate and perceive each other with the surrounding environment through embedded technology. But basically, it still stays in the connection, communication, and data interaction between electronic devices. Subsequently, the definition of IoT began to focus on the use between humans and electronic products. Therefore, in addition to the sensors of electronic products, the data collection and usage patterns of human use of electronic products are also included in the definition of IoT. In addition to being connected to the product, it can track various usage data of the user, such as the user’s biomarker.
Relevance to Nigeria
In his opening remarks, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Pantami, said new technologies are critical to developing a digital economy.
Pantami said IoT is part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is driven by emerging technologies, including 5G, Cybersecurity, Quantum Computing, Cloud Computing, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence, among others.
The minister said all the technologies are disruptive in nature and thus require adequate regulations. According to him, since 2019, the regulatory approach from the ministry had been developmental and flexible, targeted not to restrain the sector’s growth. As such, he said regulations for IoT, which was the centre of discussion at the forum, would enable the country to prepare adequately well, especially as it moves to the era of 5G.
While it was noted at the forum that IoT had started gradually in some cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano, the Minister noted IoT is very important in 4IR and disruptive technologies because it brought to the fore the issue of degasification.
He emphasised the need for the type of consultations and brainstorming being hosted for IoT, as the International Data Cooperation (IDC) revealed, “By 2025, there will be about 46.1 billion IoT devices that are going to be interconnected globally…and through this connection, the data to be generated will be up to 79.4 Zettabytes.”
At the event, which saw the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Houlin Zhou, who reviewed one of the books authored by the minister, joining virtually from Geneva, Switzerland, Pantami said globally, a huge amount of data is generated and Nigeria is not an exception. Therefore, “there should be a kind of regulation to avoid abuse. Already, there is Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) and there is National Data Protection Bureau with a National Commissioner to oversee that affair. But we need to be more specific in our regulation, which would ensure innovation is not stifled.”
Further rallying the industry, the Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said IoT is increasingly becoming important in the scheme of activities across most sectors of the economy, which includes education, security, military reconnaissance, commerce, governance, inventory management, health, surveillance and smart city initiatives etc.
Danbatta said the application of IoT is far-reaching. “In the home, IoT can be used for home automation and control, lighting, temperature measurement and entertainment amongst others. Similarly, in industrial settings, IoT unites assets, advanced analytics and workers by using connected industrial devices to monitor, collect, exchange, and analyze insights to drive faster and better decision-making processes. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can be used to track inventory, improve the monitoring of product quality, and automate factories to make them run more efficiently,” Danbatta stated.
According to him, with the advent of 5G technologies, “we are going to witness another dimension in the IoT Ecosystem as 5G technology is going to enable Massive Machine Type Communication (MTC).”
Referencing GSMA Intelligence forecasts, the NCC EVC said that IoT connections would reach almost 25 billion globally by 2025. He said with the pace of growth, it had become imperative to prepare for the regulation of this important technology.
He said IoT might be deployed as a standalone network of sensors, actuators and controllers or rely on a mobile operator’s network. He added that licensed or unlicensed IoT are all spectrum-dependent and will certainly require “our attention and that of our partners in this industry.”
Danbatta explained that, in the process of undertaking its responsibility of regulation, the NCC has made it a consistent practice to interact with experts and key players in the industry on how best to facilitate the development of robust regulations for emergent technologies in the country.
Regulations and readiness
Director of Technical Standards and Network Integrity, NCC, Bako Wakil, said with IoT challenges such as security, interoperability, and safety among others, regulation is required.
In terms of readiness of the country, Wakil disclosed that the commission was already type-approving devices. He stressed that there was, however, the need to scale up skills needed to operate the technology, adding that consumers must also be protected against exploitation.
Wakil said lots of aviation devices have been type-approved by NCC to ensure no interference.
From his perspective, the Head of Spectrum Administration at NCC, Abraham Oshadami, said by nature, that anything that is regulated works better.
“No IoT without interoperability. This is because its value chain is a complex one and does not stand alone. Investment in IoT will thrive if there is proper regulation,” he added.
To NCC Deputy Director, Technical Standards, Usman Aliyu, noted that regulation is already on, “what is needed is to make it enabling, flexible and IoT will explode. However, there must be standardization to meet global standards.”
Chief Technical Officer, Mafab Communications, Kingsley Uwazie, said there is need to regulate smartly (adaptive and cross border). He said though some regulations were already in place, “they need to be adaptive in nature.”
With multiple regulations envisaged across industries, Uwazie said there must be multi-sectoral meetings, where such issues must be resolved.
Speaking on the IoT ecosystem: “Consumer Requirements, Regulation and Challenges,” Prof. Emmanuel Eronu of the University of Abuja, said policymakers must ensure that consumers are not negatively impacted with regulations.
You, who said there must be underlying infrastructure, which must be sustained, stressed that fears of consumers must be addressed.
Addressing consumers, Eronu said regulations must cut across collaboration from the NCC, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).
According to him, these agencies must resolve challenges around interoperability, data security/ privacy, standardisation, complex liability and responsibility chains; data collection and usage, among others.
From the end-user perspective, Eronu said adherence is key, but there must be a way to protect non-knowledgeable users.
Place of Satellite
Dissecting “The IoT Ecosystem: Satellite Perspective,” Levin Born McCall of Regent Square Group, USA, said from the point of view of the satellite IoT service provider, deployment is cheap, quick to deploy, software-focused, adaptable and always evolving.
On key priorities of a new framework, Born-McCall said there is a need to build a direct relationship with satellite operators; implement a smaller fee structure; allow satellite and space segment players to exist independently of the legacy operator, that is the MNOs and ISPs.