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What technological developments will 2013 bring?

We've looked at the roadmap for legal developments in 2013. Here we predict what new technological developments and products might be launched over the coming year and what legal issues could result.

December 2012

Cloudy skies ahead

This year has undoubtedly seen increased consumer confidence in relatively new cloud products as demonstrated through the huge uptake of products such as Google Drive, DropBox, Microsoft SkyDrive and Apple's iCloud to name but a few.

cloud

Meanwhile, enterprise cloud models have existed for some time and several providers (for example, Amazon-EC2) have increased market share through their development and launch of competitive products. The European Commission has picked-up on the potential of cloud computing in Europe and published its action plan in a report at the end of September 2012. This report said that the Commission will develop, with the assistance of stakeholders, model terms for cloud computing and service level agreements for contracts between cloud providers and professional cloud users. The EC hopes to implement much of its action plan in 2013.

The legal issues this will raise will include an upheaval of one sided terms of supply for cloud services (which offer no real comfort on key concerns such as security, availability and liability) to more customer-focused provisions. Privacy concerns as always remain high and there may well be a shift to achieve security certification to a recognised international standard, or at least some mutual recognition from international data protection regulators in respect of cloud services.

Step up from "3G" to "4G"

In October 2012, an agreement was finally reached between UK mobile operators that will allow the 4G auction process to continue unimpeded (read more about the auction process here), notwithstanding Ofcom's controversial decision in August 2012 to allow Everything Everywhere (known as "EE") to use its existing 1800 MHz spectrum to launch 4G services ahead of the formal auction process in 2013.

4G mobile is expected to offer users speeds of up to 25 Mb per second (Mb/s). This is around four times faster than current 3G mobile networks are able to offer, and matches many existing fixed broadband networks – especially those using copper-based ADSL technologies.

What legal issues will arise out of the introduction of 4G?

The Federation Against Software Theft issued a press release on 8 October 2012 in which it claimed that the launch of 4G networks justifies the legal obligations placed on internet service providers to also cover the operators of mobile networks. The objective of these legal obligations (which form part of the Digital Economy Act 2010) is to restrict the illegal downloading and sharing of copyrighted content, and includes the sending of warning letters to those suspected of illegal sharing, as well as logging the activities of repeat offenders. This issue is likely to be intensified given that Google distributes BitTorrent mobile apps through the Android platform's Google Play Store, which are often used to download illegal content.

Google play

The implementation of 4G will also facilitate the convergence between different technologies. Technologies like cloud computing and the use of smartphones and tablets could lead to massive changes in the licensing and marketing models of TMT companies as they attempt to provide an all encompassing and complete solution to their customers. It could be that 4G will enable non-telecoms businesses to compete in this space to a greater extent (e.g. Skype like business models).

Further growth in smartphones and tablet devices

In 2012 smartphones represent about 35% of all mobiles sold worldwide – up from 15% in 2011. The moment when they make up 50% could well be in 2013. By 2020, it could very well be that every phone sold will be a smartphone. Smartphones are also fast replacing PC and laptop sales. Key drivers include:

  • Continued thirst for data consumption on the move (recent surveys show that people now spend more time using their smartphones for surfing the web and checking social networks than making phone calls or sending text messages);
  • Lower cost and smarter devices;
  • Faster bandwidth with the launch of 4G networks;
  • Enterprise users will increase as business buyers respond to consumerisation of IT, and the wide variety of business apps available; and
  • Rapid growth in developing economies (such as India and China).

What legal issues will the increased use of smartphones and tablets bring?

  • There have been reports of mobile apps on the Android platform that "leak" personal data, as well as a general increase of malware targeted at the various mobile platforms;
  • Transactions and content consumption on the move will result in difficulties for businesses in navigating the often inconsistent requirements of local laws across different territories; and
  • Problems in providing a consumer sign-up process and privacy policies that satisfy all potentially applicable laws.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality is the superimposition of computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data onto a real-world environment. Google’s Project Glass is one of mazeseveral projects working on augmented reality headsets. It is expected to release its code to developers of mobile apps sometime in 2013 and if smartphone apps have proved a data protection challenge, those challenges will be far more problematic. Will the proposed EU data protection legislation be able to keep up with this new technology? This issue remains in doubt.

If you have any questions on this article please contact us.

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Neil Hawley


Neil Hawley discusses some of the potential legal issues that these developments might trigger.

"The Federation Against Software Theft issued a press release on 8 October 2012 in which it claimed that the launch of 4G networks justifies the legal obligations placed on internet service providers to also cover the operators of mobile networks"