The Internet of Things merges the physical and the virtual, offering innovative solutions and creating smart environments. Along with artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are at the forefront of the world economy’s digital transformation. Data collected from sensors can be monitored and fed back to trigger an action, gain insights or respond to another connected object, hundreds of kilometres away.
European IoT and Edge Computing
IoT technologies will optimise the way we live our lives. The rollout of over 41 billion IoT devices is expected by 2025 (International Data Corporation), leading to an exponential growth of data and pushing computing operations and data analytics to the edge of the network.
With processing moving closer to the edge, we can reduce communication and storage costs as well as energy consumption. We can also apply machine learning and AI to safely identify data patterns that impact physical processes or businesses. A set of supporting policy actions have been adopted by the European Commission to accelerate the take-up of the next generation IoT and edge computing and unleash their full potential in Europe for the benefit of EU citizens and businesses.
A potential obstacle for the achievement of a single market for IoT has to do with the capacity to handle diverse and very large volumes of connected devices, as well as the need to securely identify them so they can be plugged into IoT networks. In this context, it is important to promote an interoperable IoT numbering space for a universal object identification system that transcends geographical limits, and an open one for object authentication.
The European strategy for data contributes to the creation of a European single market for IoT. This strategy proposes policy and legal solutions concerning the free flow of data across national borders within the EU. It also covers liability in complex environments such as that of the IoT, which is crucial to enhancing legal certainty around IoT products and services. In order to provide a first mapping of liability challenges that occur in the context of emerging digital technologies, including the IoT, the Commission published a staff working document on liability for emerging digital technologies.
IoT research, development and innovation
For the period of 2021-2027 under the Horizon Europe programme, the EU will invest around €95.5 million in the research, innovation and deployment of emerging technologies, building on the successes of Horizon 2020 and contributing to Europe’s green and digital transitions.
Through the Digitising European Industry (DEI) focus area, the EU prioritises ecosystem building, platform interoperability, technology integration, standardisation and validation through large-scale pilots and experimentation facilities. Complementing various policy initiatives, the Commission made available around €400 million through Horizon 2020 for efforts on platform building and large-scale piloting. Some of these projects have already come to a close, while others will continue to run into 2023.
Under its 2021-2022 calls on “World Leading Data and Computing Technologies”, the Commission is currently supporting IoT projects and other activities under Horizon Europe’s Cluster 4 "Digital, Industry and Space" Destination 3: From Cloud to Edge to IoT.
These projects focus on developing IoT and edge technologies and demonstrating their usage across multiple sectors, boosting industrial collaboration through open platforms and standards, and achieving European leadership across the entire edge ecosystem. The Commission promotes more initiatives in support of the digitalisation of European industry through the Connecting Europe Facility and Digital Europe Programme, such as rolling out common European data spaces in vertical sectors like agriculture, energy and mobility.
From an application perspective, the IoT and digital technologies are the key enablers for digital transformation in various sectors. To achieve this digitalisation, the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology (DG CONNECT) works in collaboration with the respective policy DGs to support digital projects in Horizon Europe’s Cluster 5 “Climate, Energy and Mobility” and Cluster 6 “Food, Bioeconomy, natural resources, Agriculture and environment”.
Together with edge computing, the future IoT will revolutionise the way production and processes are organised and monitored across strategic value chains, giving European industry the green and digital transition it requires.
IoT by sector
The European Commission’s IoT policy spans over numerous vertical sectors, promoting the use of new technologies to boost the digital and green transition of our economy and society.
DG CONNECT has joined forces with other Directorate-Generals (DGs) in the Commission in order to cover all possible grounds. Notably, it has worked with the Directorate-General for Mobility & Transport (DG MOVE) to develop synergies between the European Data Strategy and the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, with a particular focus on the deployment of a common European mobility data space. On the topic of connected and automated mobility, both DGs have joined forces with the Directorate-General for Research & Innovation (DG RTD) and the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship & SMEs (DG GROW) through a series of complementary policies, research and development actions.
DG CONNECT works closely with the Directorate-General for Energy (DG ENER) to prepare the grounds for the Digitalisation of Energy Action Plan, in order to accelerate the digital and sustainable transformation of the EU’s energy system, in line with the Commissions’ European Green Deal, REPowerEU and the Digital Decade policy programme for 2030. This joint work also touches upon enhancing the exchange and data use in the energy sector, with the goal of establishing a common European energy data space.
When it comes to the digital transformation of Europe’s farming industry, DG CONNECT also collaborates with the Directorate-General for Agriculture & Rural Development (DG AGRI) in the aim of developing a common European agricultural data space. Current developments are co-funded through Horizon Europe, with the deployment of the respective data spaces to be supported under DIGITAL in 2024, building on the activities of EU Member States.
Through excellent, effective, and close cooperation between the Commission’s various DGs, the EU is leading by example in areas such as legislation, standardisation and interoperability, cybersecurity, sustainable ICT, research, innovation and deployment. It works with relevant stakeholders from both the public and private sectors and civil society in these areas.