The Internet of Things week in Aarhus, Denmark, was a great chance to understand where Europe is going with the Internet of Things. Pearse O'Donohue sets out how Europe must define its role as a global player.

Last month, I had the pleasure of participating in Internet of Things Week, held this year in Aarhus, Denmark. A diverse mix of more than 1600 IoT researchers, and industry and SME representatives from policy areas like health, smart cities, smart agriculture and energy came together to discuss the policies needed to turn Europe into a global hub for the Internet of Things (IoT).

There was an exciting vibe to the event: project booths and demonstrations were interesting and dynamic, while the public exhibition attracted a large number of locals, including many school groups, allowing them to see and interact with some of the project results being showcased.

It was also a good opportunity for me to look back and reflect on the progress we have made since we published our Digitising European Industry (DEI) strategy three years ago, in which we set the ambitious goal of making Europe the world leader in IoT. The clear evidence from the projects presented in Aarhus is that we have delivered on the first steps – but the work doesn’t stop here!

Towards an IoT-enabled Europe

In 2017, we launched five IoT Large-Scale Pilot (LSP) projects in the areas of smart cities, health, wearables, cars and food and agriculture, with EU funding totalling €100 million. In 2018, a set of eight IoT security and privacy research projects was launched, with a budget of €37 million. In 2019, six additional Large Scale Pilot projects (two on agriculture, one on energy and three on digital health and care) have been launched. These LSP deployment projects are addressing both the technology aspects and the regulatory and societal issues around IoT, demonstrating that IoT technology and digitisation have the potential to solve societal challenges as well as stimulating the creation of open European and global standards.

In parallel, we have also made significant regulatory and policy progress towards the delivery of our goals. The recently adopted ICT Cybersecurity Certification Framework will enable the development of IoT innovation, while providing a high level of security. In addition, the new Free Flow of Non-personal Data Regulation ensures that non-personal data can now be stored and processed anywhere within the EU.

Making choices, going global

However, if Europe really wants to become a global leader in IoT, it is crucial to consider connecting IoT ecosystems across different sectors, continue supporting piloting and testbeds at scale, and check whether the regulatory and policy framework across different policy areas are fit for purpose.

This is why, in my opinion, the way forward is to focus on how data is gathered, managed and shared across the EU and internationally, rather than looking into a full harmonisation of IoT services. That approach could not work, as IoT does not stop functioning across borders.

Globally, the race is on to control the delivery of the digital products and services that will be critical for the proper functioning of our society and economy. We are at a crossroads in terms of ensuring freedom of choice and promoting values such as user control, ethics, privacy and security embodied in the future digital solutions, and Europe needs to take the lead but also forge new partnerships.

When I addressed the audience at the IoT Week, I stressed the need for such partnerships, with the potential to create globally competitive value chains with a strong European foundation, in particular if we in Europe want to have a free choice in future IoT solutions, which meet our needs in terms of privacy, ethics and availability. I am happy to say that there were a number of voices from industry and other stakeholders echoing this vision.

Looking ahead, as part of the new Horizon Europe programme for 2021-2027, the Commission has proposed to explore the idea of a partnership bridging the major connectivity and service infrastructures required for the Next Generation Internet, including 5G/6G, IoT, and distributed cloud computing. The partnership would be driven by industrial agendas and coordinated with the EU’s member countries. This kind of endeavour needs all stakeholders to give their views and work together, in order to ensure that Europe can continue to play a prominent role in IoT and digital transformation into the next decade.