Sometimes I get frustrated with my slow Internet. Singapore's citizens download at an average of 17 megabits per second. Korea's at 28.8. And here in the good ol' US of A... it's a whopping 11.6 megabits per second. How can we be home to the world's innovation economy but be so behind on our Internet infrastructure?
One possible answer is lack of competition. Dr. Sokwoo Rhee, Associate Director of Cyber-Physical Systems and former Presidential Innovation Fellow at National Institute of Standards and Technology, offers his view: "Countries like Singapore and Seoul have a very high density of Internet-savvy people living in relatively small areas. Many of these people are not afraid of switching carriers in the blink of an eye. In the U.S., a lot of areas have only one or two choices of Internet Service Providers. So even if people want to switch, they usually don't have a lot of choices."
Let's look at an emerging market, the Internet of Things (IoT), where everything is connected and exchanging information: cars, air conditioners, blood pressure cuffs, traffic patterns, disaster relief, all with embedded sensors connected to the Internet. All this data can be analyzed... lives can be saved, time can be managed more efficiently, pollution can be reduced and on and on. It will have a huge positive effect on consumers and society. It will find solutions to the biggest social issues of the day.
But will the United States' deployment of IoT be as slow as its Internet speed? Will our lack of leadership affect interoperability, functionality and hinder a new standard?
Dr. Rhee thinks the government needs to go beyond the "carrot-and-stick" approach:
"Government has traditionally played the role in carrot (funding) and stick (regulation) in technology. In IoT, the landscape is changing faster than ever and fragmentation is too severe - which leaves great opportunity for the third role of the government - providing a playground that these technologies and stakeholders can rapidly test and compare the results of real-world examples. Essentially the government can play an important role of 'accelerator' for the development and adoption of interoperability, standards, and functionalities. SmartAmerica Challenge and Global City Teams Challenge are great examples to show how the government can work together with industry and academia to make it happen."
Though it may seem primarily a technology initiative, leadership in IoT will require close collaboration between technologies, business models, and policies, because IoT is an "enabler" of many different sectors. The IoT technology would be much more powerful if closely coupled with sustainable business models and policies.
So pay attention policy makers. Our Internet infrastructure is crawling, but we have a second chance to go beyond the carrot and the stick. Time to start a playground!