Digital health and data governance will drive Internet of Things in 2021
As the world economy has turned to digitalisation as a lifesaver amid the uncertain times brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the dominant trends for the Internet of Things (IoT) is that technological maturity and necessity look set to power its further uptake in 2021. There is widespread expectation that 2021 will bring a full doubling down of connected device makers in the healthcare sector. Digital and remote healthcare solutions were already on the way before the Covid-19 crisis – but the pandemic has brought their development to the fore and this is set to be one of the main trends for the IoT in the new year. Smarter technologies, such as edge computing, are expected to make further advances in 2021, alongside the deployment of 5G and the benefits this will bring in terms of bandwidth and connection with patients. In Spain, network carriers, such as Telefónica, are targeting healthcare IoT as the new sector in which to expand their offering.
The unprecedented rise of these two parallel and mutually substitutable technologies – edge computing and 5G – in the IoT arena has prompted calls from industry experts for a paradigm change to increase the development of new technologies. Although IoT has been linked with 5G for years now, many reputable industry voices hold up edge computing as the most suitable option for fields such as healthcare. For obvious reasons, edge computing enables in-device processing of the particularly sensitive information at stake in the provision of healthcare services. It is difficult to overlook Covid-19. Work-from-home-related technologies and enhancements have been pushed forward by the needs that emerged during 2020, as has machine-to-machine technologies in the manufacture and retail sectors. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a clear impact on the "bricks and mortar" retail sector and has accelerated the emergence of online retail. IoT-enabled devices are expected to take over the logistics of online retail and, together with contact-free payment methods, will be the new normal.
However, Covid-19 is not the only factor spurring the development and uptake of IoT technologies. In November, the European Commission published its proposal for a regulation on European data governance, highlighting the significance of data for the European Union as it looks to offer a "roadmap" for a connected economy. The proposed Data Governance Act is expected to create a new regulatory regime for the data-sharing ecosystem, although it will have to navigate the EU's legislative process before becoming law. The Commission favours the opening up of public sector data and providing a framework for data sharing for commercial purposes, which may boost the quantity and quality of datasets made available in Member States. However, there has so far been some reluctance among Member States to fully unleash the potential of public sector data. The Commission also proposes that data-sharing intermediaries will no longer be able to use collected data for their own business purposes but will have to act in the best interest of data subjects. Undoubtedly, some business models will benefit from the expanded availability of larger volumes of high-quality data under the new act. The ban on categories of public sector data being shared exclusively should bring better opportunities to smaller businesses to access valuable data with which they can grow. This democratisation of access to data is one of the main goals pursued by the EU policies on the road to the digitalisation of small and medium-sized enterprises. And one of the healthcare benefits in the wake of the pandemic of this so-called “data altruism” will be the support that individuals who agree to share their data will give to research.