By Matthew Broersma
Industry and the government must ensure that users feel comfortable with entrusting their data to Internet of Things (IoT) devices if next-generation wireless networks are to succeed in reaching their full potential, according to Conservative MP and former science minister David Willetts.
Speaking at the 5G Huddle event in London, Willetts said the UK has the opportunity to take the lead on 5G wireless, but cautioned that privacy fears could harm the technology's future, citing the example of the NHS' care.data project, the centralized database delayed earlier this year following pressure from privacy groups.
"It's far better if the industry can be early on driving the standards and protocols that will properly protect privacy," he said.
He cited Google's purchase of smart appliance maker Nest showed the strong corporate interest in the data provided by connected devices, and said individuals must feel that they have control of their data. One way of achieving this could be the institution of a "modest payment" for the use of data, a change from the "bartering" in place today.
He said the potential for 5G to drive connected devices, from smart meters to home appliances, had "caught the imagination" in government, and predicted future wireless technology would see many more machine-to-machine connections.
The UK can be a 5G leader if it gets involved early on in standards and research, Willetts said.
The government has provided significant funding to 5G research projects, including a £5m grant to the University of Surrey. Some of this funding is to be spent on what the university calls the world's first dedicated 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), still under construction in Guildford and expected to open in April 2015.
Earlier this year Prime Minister David Cameron promised the UK will work with Germany on 5G and IoT, and Willetts said the UK is also working with Chinese firms on emerging standards.
China's Huawei said last year it would spend at least $600m (£374m) on 5G technologies, predicting the first such networks would be ready for deployment by 2020.
Simon Towler, the head of telecommunications policy at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), told the event that the government is working to provide the "best possible" policy and legislation environment for 5G development.