In this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, Bilel Jamoussi from the ITU joins Ryan Chacon to discuss the impact of IoT in 2023 and its pivotal role in digitizing the economy and transforming cities into smart, sustainable environments. They delve into the challenges facing IoT, particularly in security and device identification, and the importance of international standards in facilitating interoperability. Bilel shares insights from various smart city implementations around the globe. He also highlights future trends in the digital transformation space, particularly the growing role of artificial intelligence.

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About Bilel Jamoussi

A distinguished engineer, leader, and diplomat, multilingual standardization expert, and holder of 23 patents, Dr. Bilel Jamoussi is the Deputy to the Director and Chief of Telecommunication Standardization Policy Department at the ITU Standardization Bureau (TSB) in Geneva, Switzerland. His primary mission is to establish international standards to promote universal, meaningful connectivity and champion sustainable digital transformation. His innovative approach has served as a catalyst to launch new standards initiatives related to emerging technologies such as IoT, Blockchain, AI and Quantum, attracting a new wave of memberships from non-traditional players.

Interested in connecting with Bilel? Reach out on LinkedIn!

About ITU

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies. Founded in 1865 to facilitate international connectivity in communications networks, they allocate global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develop the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strive to improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide.

Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:

(00:34) Introduction to Bilel Jamoussi and ITU

(01:06) The impact of IoT in 2023

(02:50) Challenges and opportunities in IoT

(04:19) Importance of partnerships in IoT deployment

(06:30) Smart city adoption and implementation

(09:56) Diversity in smart city adoption

(12:21) Role of standardization in IoT

(13:55) Challenges in IoT standardization

(17:26) Future outlook: AI and digital transformation

(18:44) Closing remarks and future collaborations


– [Ryan] Welcome Bilel to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week. 

– [Bilel] Thank you for having me.

– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s great to have you. I’m excited to chat, and I wanted to kick this off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself and the company to our audience. 

– [Bilel] Sure. My name is Bilel Jamoussi. I’m the Deputy to the Director of the Telecommunications Standardization Bureau in the ITU. I’m based in Geneva. We look after international standards for connecting the world and enabling digital transformation. 

– [Ryan] Fantastic. Yeah, it’s, as I learned more about the organization, it’s very fascinating the work you do just across all different areas and so very excited about chatting with you. And I wanted to kick this off and have you talk to me about, from your perspective and the work that you all do, where is IoT really having the biggest impacts throughout this year that you’ve seen? 

– [Bilel] IoT is playing a pivotal role in digitizing the economy. The Internet of Things is allowing the physical world to be mapped into the digital world. So when we talk about digital twins, for example, they’re possible through a number of IoT devices to bring us the physical world into the digital space. And so that’s an important element in really the whole world of digital transformation, is based on many Internet of Things devices that make it possible.

For example, to give you a concrete example, in cities, for instance, cities are now able to manage traffic much better thanks to many sensors that are placed on the road, many cameras that are throughout the city and sensors can give city managers a good idea about, the traffic flow, parking availability, pollution in the city and so on and so forth. So those are some examples of sensors that are Internet of Things objects, cameras that are also considered as IoT devices, that allow the digitization of the city to be able to manage it in a much smarter and sustainable way. 

– [Ryan] With IoT just in general, with cities adopting, companies adopting, what are the keys to success in your opinion? And what are some of the biggest challenges that the industry faces, which potentially may tie together there? 

– [Bilel] Yeah, some of the challenges are really in terms of security because the perimeter of the network gets grows much bigger when you connect more and more devices. Every IoT device needs to be identified and the traffic flow between the IoT device and the network needs to be secured somehow. And in order to do that, our effort in the ITU is to enable that through international standards, so you can have interoperability when you connect these devices, and the IoT devices come with many different channels. Some come on cellular networks, some are connected through WiFi, others through Bluetooth or Zigbee, LoRa network, so there are many channels of connectivity for the Internet of Things, some even through satellites, low orbit satellites. There is that diversity in the channel used to connect the Internet of Things devices and standards help harmonize and provide that interoperability that users need to ensure that all of these devices can talk to each other in a secure manner. So those are the challenges and the opportunities with the Internet of Things. 

– [Ryan] And one of the things I know from our experience that matters a lot in the success of deployments is and just adoption in general are partnerships. From the work that you’ve done, how vital are partnerships to the success of an IoT deployment being successful?

– [Bilel] They’re critical for, all of our work in ITU is based on the partnership of the public and the private sector as well as academia. We have 193 countries, members of the ITU. We have over 900 companies that are building products and deploying IoT solutions and services as well as 160 universities around the world that are doing a lot of advanced research on this topic.

So partnering on the defining the international standard is critical because all of these stakeholders are either using, deploying, manufacturing, or regulating the Internet of Things. So it’s important to bring them all into one place to agree on what’s important in terms of getting the IoT to be deployed widely. So there’s a lot of partnership among the private sector. Each company building its own piece of the puzzle and the partnership with the government to provide the enabling environment and deployment because many of the cities are basically governments, city governments that are using these, these IoT services. 

In the space of smart, sustainable cities, we developed a standard that is the key performance indicators of smart, sustainable cities. They allow the city to collect about 130 data points, to assess the smartness and sustainabilities of cities. Many of these data points are based on IoT data. And in order to facilitate the partnership in deploying these solutions, we created what’s called the United for Smart Sustainable Cities, which is a partnership among 17 UN agencies, each one working from its own point of focal focus point to, enable the deployment of these standards in more than 200 cities around the world. 

– [Ryan] And I wanted to ask about just smart city adoption in general. So as long as I’ve been in the space, smart cities have been a pretty big topic of conversation. We’ve seen ebbs and flows with the adoption, the success of deployments and just depends on the makeup of the city, the municipality, the organizations that are involved in being able to see kind of growth in smart city adoption in a lot of these different areas of the world. Where are we today with smart city adoption? And what I’m trying to understand is, are we seeing a rise and increase in smart city adoption or what are we really seeing as the big trends on the smart city side of things? 

– [Bilel] We do see a big adoption of smart, sustainable city implementation of our standards. Almost every week we get the request from the city to join the KPI project, the key performance indicators project. Today, we have delivered a certificate to more than 200 cities around the world that have implemented the ITU standard on KPIs. There are different, every city is different. Every city has a different focus and a reason to come to ITU and join this endeavor journey. Some are more developed countries that really want to make their city attractive for investment and for people to come and live. Among the first cities that deployed our standard was Dubai and through that implementation back in 2016, it’s a long time, but through that we were able to adapt our standard to be more implementable because standards are developed by committees from different expertise. But once you implement it, it’s the where the rubber hits the road.

Based on that, we got some feedback and then when we went to Singapore and Moscow and many cities here in Europe, in Valencia, in Spain, for example. And as we implement them, cities talk to each other and sometimes you get like a nationwide request, like in Norway. We have the whole country adopting the same approach. So, we do see a rise on the implementation, especially with the cost of IoT going down. It’s deployment and use is showing how cities can get the data to manage, in a more smart, smarter and in a more sustainable way. 

– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s been a fascinating journey just to watch, as like one thing you mentioned, as costs go down, as municipalities are going to be able to start to see wins in cities that they communicate with, to understand the value, which I think is a big part of it because there’s a lot of hesitation also just generally speaking when you’re talking about the government. Oftentimes it’s very slow moving. So a lot of these municipalities just takes time to, to get the initiatives through the door, have budget, do the deployment, see the success, grow from there.

I think what’s unique about it is that no two cities are the same, right? Like the, cities are very different. So how do you see that impacting smart city adoption? And obviously there’s some carry overs from one city to another here and there, but they’re, they are very different from who runs the city and is in charge of making decisions to the budgets to the makeup to the environment. All these different things are different from city to city. So how does that kind of throw a wrench into things? 

– [Bilel] The diversity in the cities has been a topic of study of this United for Smart Sustainable Cities project for the past 6, 7 years. And as we embark new cities on board, we document their case study, and we publish it openly on our website. And that allows cities to get a view of what’s possible based on their size, based on their needs. And when they do the KPI project, and they collect 130 data points, they understand their weakness and their strength, and they understand the areas that they need to focus on based on their priorities. For some cities, pollution is a problem. And then based on the data they collect through this journey of the standard, then they see how they can deploy certain measures in the city to address pollution. Others have big traffic problems or non optimal or suboptimal public transportation system. So for instance, in Switzerland, they optimized the public transportation system based on the mobile cell presence of the customers. And it’s fully anonymous. And the way that they collected the data from the telecom operators is they see the concentration of people in a bus stop in the morning and how much people have to travel to get to the bus stop and based on that, they rearranged where the bus stops and the train stops are placed, and that increases fluidity, the flow of people and the efficiency of flowing people through the city and reduces traffic jam and reduces the need to take your car or use other means of transportation.

So these are some examples on how because each city is different, once they collect the data, they can focus on the area that is most interesting to them. And this database of case studies that we have with 200 cities allows a menu of cities to compare and contrast their needs with what has been done before.

– [Ryan] It makes a lot of sense how that works. And I think what’s interesting, too is just the nature of the technology that’s now available to make smart city adoption more realistic than ever before. But I wanted to pivot real quick to talking about standardization because you brought that up before. Can you tell us more just generally speaking what it means when we’re talking about standardization and why it’s so important for the IoT industry? 

– [Bilel] Standardization is important for a number of reasons. One is interoperability. So when you buy a solution from one vendor, you’re not locked in as a city.

You can buy different equipment from different vendors, and you put them together as long as they adhere and comply to the standard. You can create many different solutions. So it’s Lego blocks. So interoperability is the key first step. And then the other, because the community is so diverse when you create a standard between companies and governments and researchers in the university, the content of the standard is quite rich and international. In that sense, you have that assurance that once you deploy the standard, many of the issues that could be uncovered have been uncovered by the committee. And then some countries use it as voluntarily as part of their regulation. So they regulate, for example, the way that a smart city could be deployed based on these international standards.

So these are some of the benefits of using standards. And, and the reason how, the process on how to get to them is quite open, inclusive, multi stakeholder. That they’re usually of quite high quality so that the vendors and operators of the implementation can rely on. 

– [Ryan] And what are the challenges that a lot, that kind of align with standardization? It feels like the landscape can be complex at times. So just how does that all play in? 

– [Bilel] Yeah, the challenge is the landscape is quite wide, especially when it comes to IoT. There are so many devices. Some are more, have more capacity than others. Some are smarter than others. And there are many standards development organizations of foreign consortium.

So what we’ve been trying to do in the ITU is to harmonize those standards that are widely deployed by the industry and make them international. For example, there’s a group called one and two M that creates a software layer to interconnect devices to the services and applications, and we have adopted that as part of the ITU standard to make it easy for every company around the world to use that standard. So yeah, the challenge of diversity in IoT and the identification of IoT is also, because if you’re using a mobile phone, you’re using, you want 64 number, which is the telephone number allocated by the ITU to the countries and then from the countries to the operators, the users and the operator can identify that phone device uniquely. When you use IoT devices with different identifiers, it becomes challenging for the operator to identify exactly the device connected to the network. So if it’s misbehaving or causing some security issues, it’s not easy to firewall the network against it. And so what we’ve been seeing in ITU is a surge of new members joining us to get those telephone numbers to be used for M2M and IoT identification on the cellular network. And many times, they’re not used in one single country. They’re used in multiple country because the device is roaming. And when the device is used in multiple countries, the ITU is the regulator that assigns the code directly. We don’t assign a country code of any particular country, but we assign what’s called a shared code, shared country code. And there is a huge rise in that for automotive industry, for WiFi hotspots that are used internationally. Many new applications. 

– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s always been an interesting kind of part, piece of just all of this when we talk about standardization. We talked to a number of other people in the past just about kind of areas they focus in, but it seems like it’s a big driver in adoption or helping with adoption for the smart cities. Is that pretty accurate? 

– [Bilel] Absolutely. They enable the ecosystem. 

– [Ryan] Really optimistic about the future of not just IoT in general, but just solutions becoming more of the thing that is driving the industry forward. So I think in the past, it’s always been technology has been the center of conversations. But now I think we’re starting to see so many more applications of the technology in the real world. And especially in smart cities. And like we talked about already, you deploy one solution, other cities see it, and they start to get interested and curious and want to deploy as well. So I think the fact that we’re starting to see all of this come together and really produce real life solutions is a big deal. 

And the last thing I wanted ask you before we wrap up here is with the organization focused right now, going into 2024, what are some key initiatives that you all have or are focused on? What does the outlook look like going into next year that we should be paying attention to and maybe be excited about?

– [Bilel] Yeah, I think the use of artificial intelligence to help cities manage better is a big area of focus. And now that we have the IoT devices generating data, and we have data centers collecting this data, now we can use AI and machine learning to help predict congestion points to help deal with road safety in the context of a city to really help the city manager do a lot of prediction before things happen or allow the smart, the city manager to better manage the city.

So the outlook is going to be more and more use of artificial intelligence, and we also see a lot more acceleration to the digital transformation overall because the IoT devices are an enabler to the digital transformation, whether it’s in the transportation sector, in the banking sector, in the health sector and so on. So across all the sectors, the digital transformation is quite much, enabled by IoT and the data that comes from IoT and hence the use of AI and machine learning will become more and more possible now that we have the data collected. 

– [Ryan] Really appreciate you taking the time to come on here because I think topics we talked about are very relevant right now. The work you all are doing is fantastic. Very excited that we had the chance to speak. Going to be paying attention to all the different initiatives that you all are focused on and just smart cities in general. I think a lot of the people listen to this are curious of just how things have been going in the space and where the most opportunity is, where the challenges still lie even with the maturity of technology, the reduction in cost, the increased standardization like we’re talking about.

So, I really appreciate you coming on and shedding light on a lot of this. It’s been a fantastic conversation. 

– [Bilel] Thank you very much, Ryan. We look forward to working with you in the future as new and newer technologies come on board, like the Metaverse and others. 

– [Ryan] Absolutely. Yeah. We’d love to find more ways to do content together and appreciate the time and look forward to having you back. 

– [Bilel] Thank you.

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IoT For All
IoT For All
IoT For All is creating resources to enable companies of all sizes to leverage IoT. From technical deep-dives, to IoT ecosystem overviews, to evergreen resources, IoT For All is the best place to keep up with what's going on in IoT.
IoT For All is creating resources to enable companies of all sizes to leverage IoT. From technical deep-dives, to IoT ecosystem overviews, to evergreen resources, IoT For All is the best place to keep up with what's going on in IoT.