Is the Caribbean ready for the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things has been emerging over the past several years, and is likely to take off in the next two to three years, but is the Caribbean ready for it?

Earlier this week, 24–27 April, to be exact, the Caribbean Office of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) hosted a Forum on Internet of Things (IoT): Smarter Living in the Caribbean, which was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The event sought to “highlight the significance of the Internet of Things as a technological revolution that represents the future of computing and communications and its developments being dependent on dynamic technical innovation” (Source: ITU). Accordingly, key objectives of the Forum were to:

  • discuss the role the IoT plays in relation to converging technologies for building smart sustainable communities and integrated ecosystems
  • discuss IoT and development challenges and the paradigm shift in creating a smart world that facilitates sustainable economic development along with high quality of life, and
  • bring together innovators, members of the business community, policymakers, regulators and legislators from across the Caribbean, to help the region understand what the IoT is, and what concerns and challenges (if any) we ought to address.

As expected, the Forum covered multiple issues: ranging from the latest developments in the IoT globally and the innovation that has been occurring in the region, to the plans and initiatives national and regional bodies intend  to implement to advance the IoT in the Caribbean. However, while the general atmosphere at the Forum was one of excitement and optimism for the wealth of opportunities that are emerging, and continue to emerge, the attendees all had to admit that the Caribbean is quite far behind, and so is not in a position to truly harness the potential of the IoT.

It is important to emphasise that globally, the structures to support the IoT are still being developed. The interoperability of devices is crucial for the seamless implementation of the IoT. However currently, device manufacturers are using a variety of standards, some of which are proprietary, hence, to a considerable degree, the interoperability of devices cannot be truly realised.

It therefore means that – should it choose – the Caribbean can still shape the global IoT discussions that are occurring, to ensure that concerns relevant to the region are tabled and considered. However, currently, the Caribbean not as represented as it should be in those discussions.

Having said this, lots of discussions on the IoT have been occurring across several Caribbean groupings, such as by the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisations (CANTO), the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), to name a few. However, many of those discussions are occurring in silos. As a result, the critical mass or tipping point – in term having a knowledgeable cohort that not only understands the IoT, but more importantly, the issues and challenges of the Caribbean that must be addressed – has not yet achieved. Thus, we have limited consensus on key issues in order to have a unified position at international meetings.

Having said this, at this week’s  Forum, and based on other discussions that have been occurring, several stakeholder groups agree and recognise the importance of the IoT. However, for some, such as Caribbean telecoms regulators, they have more pressing issues, such as quality of service, consumer protection, competition, cybersecurity, spectrum management, to name a few, that are demanding their urgent attention.

On the other hand, the IoT is already gaining a foothold in region. Increasingly, smart devices and appliances are becoming available in the market, and Caribbean consumers, themselves, are also actively importing them. It therefore means that by the time policymakers finally get to a point where they might wish to regulate or implement certain controls, we may already too far down a particular road to make changes that may better position our individual countries, and the region as whole, in the now emerging IoT landscape.


Image credit:  COD (flickr)