The world has changed and regulation needs to change with it if we are to forge the online future we all want.
This week saw the conclusion of one of the technology industry’s most important consultations – Ofcom’s review of net neutrality. As a result, the regulator is proposing to redefine its relationship with the industry, and we couldn’t be more supportive of the updated guidance and clarity on net neutrality.
Now that Ofcom have taken it as far as they can, the hope is that Government legislation centred around a Code of Practice and key principles, supplemented as required by more detailed regulations and guidance, will be put in place. This will end prescriptive legislation that acts as a barrier to investment and innovation in a fast-moving digital world, and ultimately, benefit the UK consumer.
Net neutrality is a complex issue. It protects an open internet, where UK consumers and businesses benefit from all digital has to offer. There are few that could argue with the virtues.
However, the initial rules were written in a very different time to today. Although written just nine years ago, but such is the speed at which technology evolves that, the rules were too rigid to encourage innovation.
If the UK is to be at the forefront of the global technology industry, we need a policy environment which acts as a catalyst. Ofcom has taken the first steps in evolving net neutrality – now we need action from the Government.
It’s an incredibly important tool as we design new services and tariffs.
Why does net neutrality limit innovation?
Net neutrality rules prevent discrimination in the delivery of internet traffic. In broad terms, the connectivity offered to one site or application should not be prioritised over another similar site or application.
However, the rules assume all devices and digital services require the same type of connectivity. In 2014, this was true, but fast-forward to the 5G world and this is no longer the case.
A smartphone has different connectivity requirements to a drone. The drone requires higher levels of security, as well as low latency to respond to commands in near-real time. Another example is smart meters. These do not require high download speeds, constant connectivity, or low latency.
Each example requires a different type of connectivity service. However, the current net neutrality rules prevent Vodafone from providing differentiated experiences based on requirements.
New regulation to enable innovation
One of the most promising 5G innovations is network slicing. Under the old net neutrality rules, it would not be possible, but the new approach from Ofcom is much more open to new ideas.
Network slicing allows Vodafone to create different virtual networks on the same physical mobile network. Each slice is isolated from the others, allowing Vodafone to create different connectivity services with specific capabilities.